Ah, autumn. The days get shorter. The nights get colder. The light gets scarcer. And even the best of us can get a little down.
It’s perfectly normal to experience mild depression, a lack of motivation and low energy during the fall season.
But sometimes the problem is more severe and is called Seasonal Affective Disorder — or SAD for short, aptly enough. SAD is a mood disorder closely related to clinical depression, but unlike regular depression, it’s closely tied to a particular time of the year, usually the fall or winter.
SAD can be psychologically crippling to those who suffer from it, negatively affecting daily life and interactions with others. While it’s common to feel slightly melancholy when the weather is cold, people with SAD suffer much more acutely.
Many experts believe SAD is related to our internal clocks, or circadian rhythms, and some have linked it to the higher production of a brain chemical called melatonin during the colder months.
SAD is a serious problem and requires professional help. But if you’re feeling more of the milder, garden-variety seasonal blues, there’s plenty you can do to raise your spirits — and even enjoy the change in seasons.
Get physical. Exercise is great for relieving the stresses of life. Plus, the effects of a good workout can last for several hours after you hit the showers. You’ll have more energy throughout the day, and exercise helps your mind by releasing those "feel good chemicals" that improve your mood.
Eat a healthy diet. Avoid refined and processed foods like white breads, rice and sugar. Eat complex carbohydrates such as whole wheat breads, brown rice, veggies and fruit. These healthy foods provide your body and mind with nutrients, and stabilize your blood sugar and your energy levels.
Catch some rays. Did you know sunlight actually improves your mood? Try to spend more time outdoors. Keep your shades up during the day to let more light in. Sit near windows in restaurants and during class. And try changing the light bulbs in your house to "full spectrum" bulbs, which mimic natural light.
Limit alcohol intake. Alcohol is actually a depressant, and rather than improving your mood, it only makes it worse. Moderate drinking is fine for most people, but binge drinking, defined as having five or more drinks in one sitting, is never a healthy choice.
Sleep on it. Aim for 7-8 hours each night, and try to keep your bedtime and waking time consistent. Try not to oversleep — those 12-hour snoozes on the weekend can actually make you more tired. And don’t forget naps. A short (10-30 minute) afternoon nap may be all you need to recharge your batteries in the middle of the day.