By Haley Kennedy, Recovery Coach – 12.3.2021 –
Maintaining recovery can be a day-to-day struggle for anyone, but for some, getting through the winter months offers even greater challenges.
It isn’t unusual for anyone to feel a little “down in the dumps” during the winter; when those feelings become intense, it could be a sign of seasonal affective disorder (SAD) or ‘seasonal depression.’ Seasonal affective disorder is a type of depression due to the change of the seasons. As anyone who has suffered from depression knows, it’s more than a feeling of sadness — symptoms of SAD include feelings of hopelessness, sleep problems, loss of interest in hobbies, appetite changes/weight fluctuation, issues concentrating, lack of energy, and/or intrusive thoughts.
There seems to be a distinct connection between SAD and the lack of exposure to sunlight during the winter. Shorter days with less daylight can affect the activity of serotonin in our brains, which in turn affects the body’s circadian rhythm. Getting a little more sunlight can help combat these changes — draw back the curtains and get outside as much as you can. Another alternative is light therapy with a light box or gadget to provide artificial light.
Vitamin D is an essential vitamin that helps to keep us healthy in many ways, including strengthening bones by supporting calcium absorption. People suffering from substance use disorder often have vitamin deficiencies, including vitamin D, and during the cold winter months we get even less from sunlight. So, some options to boost our vitamin D levels include supplements or adding more vitamin D-rich foods to our diet like salmon, egg yolks, and orange juice.
Exercise is helpful as well because it releases endorphins, and increases tryptophan, an amino acid used to make serotonin in the brain. Even if you have to push yourself to get up and get moving, it’ll improve your mood once you do. To get the most benefit from exercise, bundle up and go outside, if it’s just a brisk walk around the block, outdoor exercise can help reduce SAD symptoms.
One of the hardest things to do is admit that we feel depressed — it’s easier to just stay in bed and not put any energy into getting better. But our recovery depends on our continued dedication, hard work and asking for help if/when we need it — avoid isolation that can bring cravings and in turn a recurrence, put yourself out there and spend time with the people you care about.
The winter blues can take a toll on our mental/physical health and our recovery; we can’t change the season, but we can make choices to help minimize the negative effects.
Remember, it’s common to feel less energetic and have a change in mood during the winter months, but if lifestyle interventions like those listed above are not providing enough relief, if it’s affecting your ability to take pleasure in life, or you feel like you don’t have the energy to get through your day, or if you are suffering or struggling in other ways, talk to a medical professional.