If you’re feeling down in the doldrums, it may be Seasonal Affective Disorder (S.A.D.). Here are a few tips for putting the wind back in your sails.
After the bustle and excitement of the holidays and the promise of a brand new year, you might be feeling slightly sluggish, listless, or depressed as January winds down and a long winter looms ahead. That’s a fairly common mid-winter syndrome. Some people call it “being down in the doldrums.”
“Doldrums” is a nautical term given to a low-pressure belt around the Earth near the equator where sailing ships were often trapped on windless waters. Supplies would dwindle. Stranded sailors would grow frustrated and deeply depressed. Merriam Webster Dictionary explains further:
Almost everyone gets the doldrums—a feeling of low spirits and lack of energy—every once in a while. The doldrums experienced by sailors, however, are usually of a different variety. In the early-19th century, the word once reserved for a feeling of despondency came to be applied to certain tropical regions of the ocean marked by the absence of strong winds. Sailing vessels, reliant on wind propulsion, struggled to make headway in these regions, leading to long, arduous journeys.
January through March is a common time for people to experience their own personal doldrums, with the wind taken out of their sails. Some call it winter depression, melancholia, being down in the dumps or having the blues. Psychologists and health professionals have another term: Seasonal Affective Disorder, or S.A.D. for short.
Generally, S.A.D. is related to changes in your body chemistry, specifically your serotonin and melatonin levels. Lack of light is deemed to be a big factor, but there are other factors that can contribute: The days are short; the nights are long. Cold, wintry weather leads to people spending more time indoors. This “hibernating” instinct can turn us into couch potatoes, with low activity levels, fewer social interactions and greater social isolation.
People who suffer from S.A.D. often describe feeling low-energy, anxious, and irritable. They often experience sleep disorders, headaches, weight gain, and other symptoms. The good news is that with treatment, Seasonal Affective Disorder can be managed.
Here are steps you can take to put wind back in your sails and navigate away from the winter doldrums:
Lighten up. Make some simple changes in your home or workspace to let more light in. Open blinds, trim tree branches blocking sunlight or add skylights to your home or office. If you can’t do that, add more artificial light. Light therapy boxes have helped many lessen the negative effects of S>A.D..The Yale School of Medicine talks more about light therapy and makes the case why not just any light will do. The article offers suggestions for light products that have been tested.
Get outside. Exercising and eating right can have a positive impact on your body’s chemistry. Long walks in beautiful places can bring a sense of inner calm. Activity is a good antidote and nature has a restorative power to heal. Better yet, get social. Go walking, skiing or skating with friends to combine social interaction with exercise. Spending more time with friends can also lighten your mood.
Boost your vitamin D intake. Outside activities in day- light help because we absorb much of our Vitamin D from sun. But you can also get it in your food and you can ask your doctor to check your vitamin D level to see if you need a supplement.
Get plenty of sleep. Lack of sleep saps us of energy and can affect our mood. Learn how to sleep better and more productively..
Set and work to future goals. Sometimes, having new or positive goals can keep us busy and focused on the future. A midwinter trip to a warm, sunny climate or a new destination can give you something to look forward to. Taking classes with a goal of advancing your career or pursuing a hobby can also keep you focused on the future.
Explore other therapies. If symptoms persist, talk to a physician to ask about alternate treatments such as hormone or antidepressant therapy. Plus, try at-home relaxation therapies such as meditation and yoga.
Reach out for help. Talk therapy with counselors can be helpful. Remember, you can call an EAP counselor to get help for S.A.D., depression, anxiety, or other mental health issues anytime, day or night.
For more information on or help with S.A.D.
- Help Guide: Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD)
- Mental Health America: Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD)
- National Institute of Mental Health: Seasonal Affective Disorder
- SAMHSA’s National Helpline 1-800-662-HELP (4357)