Using Mindfulness to Combat SAD

Seasonal Affective Disorder, or SAD, feels just like it sounds, it’s a form of depression that rises and falls with the temperature and exposure to daylight. While there are many treatment options available for treating SAD, practicing mindfulness is a tried and true option, with practices you can do from the comfort of your (warm) home. 

How does practicing Mindfulness help SAD?

There is scientific evidence that meditation is helpful in the management of SAD. One of the theories is that the main cause of winter blues is the disturbance of the pineal gland –  located in the middle brain that regulates patterns of sleeping and waking up. Meditation stimulates the function of the pineal gland, creating more melatonin to promote relaxation. Meditation also increases serotonin levels, which can also be prescribed in the treatment of SAD. While practicing longer forms of meditation may not be feasible in our schedules day to day, adding mindful activities to our routine can definitely reap these benefits as well. 

Here are our tips for kicking the winter blues aside: 

The power of breathing 

Paying attention to your breath is a great way to practice mindfulness, and soften the emotions already present, whether it’s sadness, anxiety, or a feeling of lethargy. Bring awareness to where your breath feels most prominent, either at the chest, back of the throat or the belly. Repeat this a few times. 

Get off autopilot

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While you’re doing those mundane tasks on autopilot – slow down, and use this opportunity to bring awareness to them. So much of our days are embedded in routine, such as brushing your teeth, washing your face, or showering. Try taking a pause and be mindful of what these activities feel like. The way the water feels on your skin, or sounds, or what the toothpaste tastes like. Bringing mindfulness into these tasks instead of letting your brain go into autopilot can help ground you, and even make them more enjoyable. 

Mindful movement

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Mindful movement, indoors or outdoors – if you’re ready to brave the cold, then go for it. Exercise has been scientifically proven to aid SAD but can be daunting with the cold weather. Practicing mindful movement doesn’t necessarily mean going out to a yoga class, but can be something that you can do at any point of the day. While taking a walk, pause between steps while your next foot starts moving. Play with walking faster, or slower, with more or less weight. As your awareness will drift to the millions of things on your list, take note of your thoughts and keep on going. 

Eat well, eat mindfully

We all have to eat, and most of us are guilty of not eating nutritious meals, and distracting ourselves while doing so. Take a few minutes and slow things down before the moments pass you by. This could be during lunch, or while you’re having your much-needed cup of coffee. Bring all your senses to your meal or drink, and take small bites. What’s the temperature like? The scent? The texture? Slow down each moment, and be fully attentive to your food.

Connect with others

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While the cold weather can definitely bring you into hibernation mode, being solo can worsen your SAD symptoms. Getting out there and connecting with people can relieve stress, provide support, and build resilience to life’s challenges. This can be as simple as grabbing a cup of coffee with a friend or joining one of our upcoming programs. Taking one of our MBSR, MBCT or MSC courses can provide you with a community support system, while learning different mindfulness-based practices.

Chetna Suri is a writer for the Centre for Mindfulness Studies and is working to connect more individuals to mindfulness-based practices. She’s a previous student of the MBCT, and MBSR programming. Since graduating from the University of Toronto she’s worked as a digital writer and is passionate about mental health advocacy. 

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