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
1. Beeswax Candles (classic hygge essential, amiright?)
My ritual is to light a few candles at the end of a long day to restore in true winter hygge fashion. I have loved the 100% pure Minnesotan beeswax candles from Slow Burn, hand poured out of the owner, Sara's, home in St Paul, MN. I'm also planning to buy one of every geometric candle design (and stock) by local artist Torey Erin, the candlemaker @_w_a_x_i_n_g_.
2. Outdoor Gear (+ XC Skis!)
I made the leap and invested in some cross country ski gear this year for the first time in my LIFE and it has been doing wonders for my seasonal mood + creativity. I generally have my best creative ideas on longer walks, runs or bike rides and xc skiing is making space for my creative juices to flow in the winter months. I am also getting the benefits of ecotherapy as xc skiing allows more time in nature, directly appreciating the resilience of wildlife in winter months.
3. Weighted Relief Pillow
These are new from Ethel Studios, so I just ordered mine. The zero-waste weighted Relief Pillows, "combine colorful patchwork with a comforting malleable structure to help form around your body where you need grounding and relief...Heat your pillow in the microwave to add warmth, or place your pillow in the refrigerator or freezer for a cooling effect." Ethel Studios' recommended uses for the pillows include as "a heating pad for anxious tummies" and "a hot or cold compress for tired muscles" among other creative uses. Sign me up!
4. Dream Journaling
I have been keeping a log of my dreams as a way to tap into my creative unconscious this winter. Seriously! There is a lot that our unconscious is working through as we sleep and much of this decoding can be done on our own... but we need to pay close attention to the content and themes of our dreams. I prefer to use pen and journal to log my dreams, but a journaling app could suffice if that better suits your preferences.
5. Beeswax Lip Balm
With a focus on creating a simple and pure product, Portland duo Brad + Anika combine urban beekeeping and organic, locally sourced ingredients to create Portland Bee Balm. They even wrap the balms in real wood instead of processed paper. I have all 4 of the main flavors and love them all in this cold + dry winter climate.
6. Organic Essential Oils
Aromatherapy is a go-to for me throughout the year, but I rely on essential oils even more in the winter while I can't access the aromas of nature as readily on hikes. I love the quality + mission of Pranarom that includes sustainable harvesting methods and organic plants. My Wellness Blend Picks: Sleep Aid + Mental Clarity.
7. Circadian Optics SAD Lamp
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. I recommend (and use!) the Circadian Optics Lumos 2.0 for it's UV-free brightness (10K Lux) and adjustability. Start with 10-20 minutes per day of basking for winter mood improvement!
8. Warm Beverages
As many of my clients know, coffee is my morning (and afternoon) treat. During winter months, sipping a warm beverage at certain times of the day can create meaningful ritual to start/end the work day, replace alcohol, or ignite sleepiness at the end of a long day. Being mindful of yourself (and your relationship with caffeine), find a warm beverage that can a sense of inner calm, warmth and wellbeing this winter. Can't wait to check out The Get Down Coffee, Co. this spring! You in?
9. Alarm clock
Benefit your ZZZs by keeping your phone out of your room and using an old school alarm clock. Any alarm clock will do, but I recommend a style that emulates a sunrise for these winter months.
By Lindsey Mackereth, MA, LPCC, LADC