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With the winter months quickly approaching, it is important to address the negative health effects that accompany the change of seasons. Physically, winter is the peak of flu season, along with the typical common cold. Emotionally, the reduced level of sunlight during these winter months disrupt the body’s circadian rhythm, making individuals more susceptible to symptoms of depression. During this time, seasonal affective disorder becomes a significant issue. By knowing the dangers that the winter months can have on health, we can learn to be more proactive and productive in our own daily routines. 

What is Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD)?

Seasonal affective disorder is a type of depression characterized by a recurrent seasonal pattern. Although seasonal affective disorder can occur during the spring and summer months, most cases of SAD occur in the late fall and winter months due to the significant decrease in daylight hours. SAD sometimes runs in families, but otherwise does not have any diagnosable cause. Research shows that people with seasonal affective disorder have reduced activity with certain chemicals in their brain, such as the neurotransmitter serotonin. Serotonin helps to regulate mood by producing feelings of well-being and happiness. Research has also shown that sunlight typically increases serotonin, which also helps to explain why SAD is so common during the winter months. 

Signs and Symptoms of SAD

The signs and symptoms associated with SAD include the symptoms that define major depression, with some other symptoms that differ regarding the pattern of the particular season. Symptoms of major depression may include:

  • feeling depressed nearly every day for most of the day
  • losing interest in activities once found pleasurable
  • significant changes in appetite or weight
  • experiencing insomnia or other sleep issues
  • experiencing noticeable changes in mood, such as increased agitation
  • having low energy
  • feeling hopeless
  • struggling with concentration
  • suicidal ideation

Symptoms related to seasonal patterns include:

  • For winter-pattern,
    • oversleeping
    • overeating or weight gain
    • social withdrawal
  • For summer-pattern,
    • issues with sleeping
    • poor appetite
    • restlessness
    • anxiety

How to Fight Symptoms of the Winter Months

There are a variety of treatments meant to combat the symptoms associated with SAD. The National Institute of Mental Health encourages four categories of treatment, including light therapy, psychotherapy, antidepressant medications, and vitamin D. These suggestions also correlate with ways on how to be more productive, which can fight depression as well as general lack of motivation that is typically experienced during the winter months. 

Increasing Your Productivity

Knowing the risks of developing SAD and other seasonal symptoms of depression, it is more important than ever to find ways to increase your physical and mental energy. There are numerous ways to increase productivity and motivation once you fully commit to doing so. Before considering your options, it is important to keep in mind that it is healthy to find time to relax and just “be.” This involves finding a balance of relaxation and mindfulness when you consider putting more energy into productivity. Balance is necessary for your well-being. 

Here are some suggestions on how you can be more productive during the winter months:

  • Make time for sunshine. This becomes increasingly more challenging during dark winter days, but sunshine plays a major role in fostering productivity and work performance.
  • Continue to enjoy nature. If you are someone that doesn’t enjoy the cold, find a way to bundle up better to keep you warm. Going for a walk and getting fresh air can also help to increase productivity.
  • Give yourself necessary breaks and mental health days. Plan ahead and give yourself some breaks throughout the season. This gives you things to look forward to as well as time to reset and reenergize.
  • Find the right playlist. Find some mood-boosting tunes and play them during the times you feel low. This can increase your levels of happiness and in turn, increase your productivity.
  • Stay hydrated. Staying hydrated keeps your body at balanced levels, emotionally and physically. Even slight dehydration can cause alterations in mood and concentration.
  • Lean in on your support systems. Locate supportive environments to help you increase your motivation and allow others to help you stay accountable.
  • Out with the old, in with the new. One of the greatest things you can do for yourself is to make sure your space is clean, whether that be your workspace or living space. You can do some spring cleaning in the winter to clear your space or take up new organizational techniques. The cleaner your workspace, the better your performance and wellbeing.
  • Develop a new daily routine. Getting out of a warm bed on a freezing winter day can be the most challenging part of one’s day. Try to develop a new daily routine that makes it worth getting out of bed. Add in little things that help you to make you feel your best.

The winter months can sometimes bring lower levels of motivation and productivity, as the decrease in sunlight produces significant effects on mental and physical health. Among these health concerns is seasonal affective disorder, a condition of depression that occurs with a recurrent, seasonal pattern. Seasonal affective disorder is characterized by a decrease in serotonin levels in the brain and a subsequent decrease in feelings of well-being and happiness. Fighting the negative symptoms of the winter months can be challenging, but can encourage you to be more proactive when the winter months approach. Increase your productivity by finding time to enjoy the sunshine, giving yourself necessary breaks, leaning on your support, and developing new routines. West Coast Recovery Centers understand how important it is to find ways to stay productive during the winter. For information on the addiction and mental health recovery treatments that we offer, give us a call today at (760) 492-6509.