Seasonal affective disorder, also known as seasonal depression, are mood changes that coincide with seasonal changes. It most often afflicts people during the winter. The symptoms will show up at about the same time every year; they begin in the fall and abate in early spring. Seasonal depression acts much like mild depressive disorder: moodiness, fatigue, trouble sleeping, a feeling of sadness or numbness, appetite changes, etc. If you already have a mood disorder like bipolar, winter can bring a depressive episode, followed by a manic or hypomanic episode in the spring/summer. SAD is caused by bodily changes that are symptoms of seasonal changes: lack of sunlight messes with your circadian rhythm, melatonin and serotonin levels. It follows, then, that winter hurts your energy levels, sleep cycle and mood, respectively.
So, how do we help ourselves deal in the dark? There are a lot of things you can do to mitigate the effects of SAD without resorting to medications. Though, it is important to note that in some cases, psychotropics are a necessary and completely legitimate treatment option.
Things You can do to Feel Better During the Winter
Now, feeling sad and low energy are things you can handle at home with some self-care rituals and lifestyle adjustments. But if you’re feeling extremely depressed for days on end, or have consistent intrusive thoughts of self-harm or suicide, get to a doctor immediately.
Self-care for SAD:
- Get outside and get some sun. If that’s not an option, look up and purchase SAD lights and put a bunch of plants in a room in your home.
- Light therapy sessions. However, make sure you aren’t on any medications that make you sensitive to the SAD lights. People with bipolar also shouldn’t do light therapy.
- Check out the benefit of monochromatic green light.
- Keep a good diet, even when you don’t want to. “Comfort” foods increase depression and anxiety.
- Don’t go too hard on the alcohol. It is a depressant, after all.
- See a therapist for some cognitive behavioral therapy.
- Treat yourself with self-care rituals like a hot bath or indulging in your guilty-pleasure TV show when you’re feeling down.
- Take a Vitamin D/K supplement.
- Don’t let up on your exercise routine. Moderate to intense exercise increases the feel-good chemicals in your brain. And tiring yourself out might help you sleep better.
Because SAD tends to onset at the same time each year, implementing one, some, or all of these habits in the weeks before it starts will help you prevent symptoms and/or lessen their intensity when they do occur. So get started on your SAD self-care – it’s never a bad time.