My freshman year of high school I first noticed my temperament sharply shift from my gregarious, energetic, life-loving self to an aloof, distant, overall sad person. At the time, I could not explain my mood. It was November, I had just completed my first year of cross country. My classes were going well and I had plenty of friends but something wasn’t right. November turned to December and my depression worsened. My energy was exhausted before I began the day. It took tremendous effort to complete simple tasks, getting out of bed was hard. I was no longer running, most of my time was spent inside. By mid-February I began to think I was chronically depressed seemingly for no reason. Track was beginning in a week. I considered not running but was dissuaded by my crosscountry coach — thank God.
I began running again, outside. Winter’s frost began to melt into spring’s blossoms and my mood transformed with it. Perplexed but relieved by my reclaimed happiness, I went to my doctor. I wanted answers.
What was going on? Seasonal affective disorder (SAD).
SAD is thought to be a depression caused by a lack of light. People often experience greater depression in the winter because they’re less active (like my 15-year-old self when I abruptly stopped running). Lots of holiday sweets and stress certainly don’t help our mental health either. All of these factors make feelings like sadness, stress and anxiety common. Luckily there are a number of natural solutions that can boost a person’s mood.
1. Work Out
As many of you know, staying active is an excellent way to keep your mind beaming with euphoric endorphins. When we exercise, our bodies release endorphins, chemicals that reduce our perception of pain while simultaneously triggering a positive euphoric feeling similar to morphine (also known as a runner’s high). But unlike morphine, endorphins are not negatively addictive or harmful. Keeping fit is a great way to feel well physically and mentally. It also may boost your confidence and self-image.
2. Get Outside
Researchers at Stanford University found people who spend even short periods in lush, green environments are more likely to be attentive and happy. In fact, people who spend more time outdoors are more likely to have increased activity in their brain’s subgenual prefrontal cortex. This is significant because the subgenual prefrontal cortex is thought to play a major role in an individual’s mood. Most major depressive and mood disorders are linked to this area of the brain.
3. Find Sun
If your body is craving vitamin D don’t wait for the sun to come to you, find the sun! Winter is the perfect time to go on a sunny beach vacation. Check out awesome winter escapes in the Florida Keys, the Big Island of Hawaii (my personal favorite) or Aruba. There are plenty of incredible bright, sandy beaches perfect for replenishing your spirits. I’ve been amazed at my mood’s improvement when I get the chance to go on a winter vacation.
If a vacation is not possible, don’t worry. There are other ways you can find the sun. Consider light therapy. White- and blue-light products are designed to treat Seasonal Affective Disorder. Light therapy has been proven to be medically effective. Dawn simulators are another great choice, especially if your SAD is mild. Dawn simulators help users wake up naturally in the morning by simulating a sunrise. Dawn simulators act as a gentle, soft alarm clock that will match your circadian rhythm.
4. Talk to Your Doctor
If you believe you suffer from SAD, I encourage you to consider these tactics. While natural remedies (like the ones mentioned) work incredibly well for some people, do not hesitate to talk to your doctor about other options. It’s easy to ignore SAD or to just “wait it out,” but you don’t have to.
What helps you boost your mood? —Alex