While it might seem silly to some, it is well documented that sunlight is a large influencer on the mental health of people young and old alike. The common term for when you start to feel blue when hours of sunlight begin to drop in the winter months is Seasonal Affective Disorder.
Studies have shown that there is a correlation between vitamin D deficiencies and depression. Vitamin D is created naturally when sunlight (specifically ultraviolet B) touches the skin and kick starts a natural process when the body converts cholesterol into vitamin D. Low vitamin D levels leads to a host of potential complications in mental and physical health, putting those with deficiencies at risk for diabetes, osteoporosis, and cancer.
Taking into account the lifestyles of teens living today where more time is spent indoors on a daily basis, reducing overall exposure to sunlight. This is experienced in more extremes in geographical areas where sunlight is heavily reduced during winter months, hence leading to more and more cases of SAD among youth and adults alike.
When we do head out to enjoy the sun, lathering on that sunscreen reduces your skins ability to convert the ultraviolet light into vitamin D. Canadian researchers conducted a review of studies and found a strong correlation between vitamin D levels and depression, finding that those with lower levels of the sunlight vitamin were at a higher risk of developing depression symptoms. This establishes the validity that winter months can be taxing for teens experiencing mental health struggles. A combination of exams, holidays, social pressures and pre-existing mental health issues make wintertime a real challenge for some.
How do I know if I am experiencing Seasonal Affective Disorder?
Typically, SAD will become active as the days shorten from November to the spring in April. If you have noticed you have noticeable mood and energy changes in this period year after year, you are likely susceptible to SAD. Pay attention to changes in these areas as the winter comes:
Losing Interest or Enjoyment
You may start to feel like the things that once gave you joy and satisfaction no longer have the lustre they once had. You may feel like you are no longer great at things you are good at, or lose interest in friends and social activities.
You may find yourself becoming more irritable, on edge, or more sensitive to criticism. Feelings of hopelessness or worthlessness can become more intense.
Those with SAD find themselves having more intense cravings for comfort foods such as candy or other sugary treats. Those who typically do not overeat or have a good control on their diet may start over eating or gaining weight during the winter months.
Decreased Energy Levels
You may begin to start feeling more lethargic and motivated to take action upon various activities due to energy loss. You may sleep more than usual, becoming late for school or work more often. Fatigue may hit you unexpectedly with no real explanation.
Reduced Ability to Concentrate
It is common for those struggling with SAD to feel like they are unable to concentrate and complete work at the same levels that they normally do. You may see your production, grades, and assignments start to drop in quality with feelings of low motivation towards work in general.
So what can you do?
Consult therapy professionals & your doctor
For one, consider therapy to start. We know vitamin D has a heavy influence on our moods, but it is not a miracle drug that will provide a cure though a pill. if you are experiencing suicidal thoughts, severe depression, or other mental struggles, please contact a local psychotherapist where a combination of vitamin D supplements and therapy methods can help you on your path to feeling better. Consult your doctor and get tested for your vitamin D levels to get a treatment plan that works for you. even if you are feeling slightly off in the past few days, it may be worth it to get your vitamin D levels tested as deficiencies across the population in North America is incredibly common.
Use a light therapy box
Studies have shown using a light therapy device for an hour a day in the morning on a daily basis can have a huge positive effect on mood. Again, this is not a cure but a tool you can use to help yourself on your path to feeling better. This can also have the effect of improving your circadian rhythm if you find yourself getting poor sleep on a bad schedule.
When possible, make time to spend extended periods outside to let your exposed skin absorb sunlight and create vitamin D naturally. Note that sitting by a window does not have the same effect. The UV light that creates the reaction in the skin for vitamin D cannot penetrate glass. Going for a walk will not only provide your body with the always appreciated exercise, but rolling around on your feet or any other aerobic exercise provides a host of other mental health benefits and improvements to your mood.
With depression, SAD or any other mental health problem, recovery is not done overnight. It takes a dedicated effort form those who desire to improve over months before significant changes occur. Many of our bad habits lead to poor states of mind, and it takes time and effort to change them into more positive activities. Be open with those close to you about how you feel so they can offer assistance when you need it as you are never alone.
Do not make excuses
You cannot have the mentality that the way you feel is simply a phase that will pass, or that once the new year comes you will start feeling better. You will not “snap” out of it one day. Keep focused on finding problems and making changes in your routine to help improve your moods. Sometimes the best times to get out of your comfort zone is when you are feeling down.
As the saying goes, you are what you eat. It can be difficult for most, but getting on a diet of vegetables, fruit, grains and Omega 3s can go a long way to helping you feel better. Herring, Salmon, Halibut and Catfish are all high in vitamin D as well. Your body will thank you with increased energy and better mental clarity, removing some of that mental fog. Remember to drink lots of water and stay hydrated as well!
I am not currently feeling down, should I still monitor my vitamin D?
Vitamin D is much more than a mood regulator. Having a deficiency leads to increased risk of dementia and cognitive decline for older adults and having a deficiency throughout life can have serious mental health consequences. It also contributes to memory loss, slows down neurological changes. Prenatal vitamin D deficiency can provide negative effects and problems for brain development and function. Vitamin D also contributes to:
- Lower Risks of Stroke
- Regulates the brain’s neurotransmitters for dopamine, acetylcholine, and serotonin
- maintains muscle function
- Improves the body’s ability to absorb calcium
- Helps fight the development of Alzheimer’s
If you are someone who suffers from SAD symptoms, try these methods to help improve your mood and fight the winter blues. If you are in crisis or need additional help, seek a qualified therapist. You can work towards better mental health with the proper help, assistance and dedication to walking the path to happiness.