Seasonal affective disorder (SAD) is a type of depression that is directly related to -- you got it! -- changes in seasons. Symptoms tend to begin and end around the same time each year and usually start in the autumn and continue into the winter months. Common symptoms associated with seasonal affective disorder include:
If this sounds familiar to the experience of you or someone you know, here are some tips to combat SAD and prepare to make this seasonal shift a bit more bearable:
1. Light therapy //
Light therapy involves using a special light box or lamp that produces similar effects to natural light, triggering chemicals in your brain that help regulate your mood.
2. Exercise //
Regular exercise (30-60 minutes, 3-5 times per week) can boost serotonin, endorphins, and other feel-good brain chemicals. Even better if you're able to exercise outside in natural daylight (see #3).
3. Getting outside //
Fresh air + sunlight (think Vitamin D) can be just want your body + mind are in need of as the colder weather keeps you indoors most of the time. Walking your dog (or just yourself) outside for 15-20 minutes 5 times per week may be enough to improve your mood.
4. Relaxation + yoga //
Breath work (try it in front of your light therapy!) and 20 minutes/day of yoga have been shown to alleviate symptoms of depression, including seasonally-induced mood shifts.
5. Creative play //
Creativity can be negatively affected as seasons change, so it is important to create space for creative exploration to keep those juices flowing and mood lifted. Ideas include: carrying a sketchbook, scheduling a group creating session via Zoom with other makers, order some new supplies, set monthly creative goals (ex: 2 hours of creating each week, one completed project, etc.). Have fun!
With so much darkness, it can be life-giving and mood-boosting to create daily rituals to mark transitions toward + away from work/home life. Diffuse some invigorating oils to start your day (rosemary + mint for me!) or light a candle when the work day has ended and your restoration time has begun.
6. Balanced diet //
Crave carbohydrates in the winter? Eat those carbs while making sure to balance out your diet with fresh fruits, vegetables, lean portions and whole grains to help stabilize blood sugars and, thus mood.
7. Therapy //
Counseling or therapy can help you to feel supported as well as to identify + change negative thoughts, challenge avoidance, and learn stress management skills.
8. Medication //
Some people with SAD benefit from antidepressant treatment, especially if symptoms are severe. Be sure to check with your medical provider if this is a tool you'd like to incorporate into your self care plan.
9. Avoiding drugs + alcohol //
Be aware of any inclination to self-medicate seasonal depression. While alcohol and drug use may seem to bring immediate relief, they actually perpetuate depression + anxiety long term.
Hope this gives you some ideas as to how to alleviate any seasonal mood shifts. Nothing changes if nothing changes, so try something new this winter! You are so worth it.
Reference for symptoms: https://www.mayoclinic.org/diseases-conditions/seasonal-affective-disorder/symptoms-causes/syc-20364651
By Lindsey Mackereth, MA, LPCC, LADC