If you are part of the roughly three percent of the population that experiences Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD) or the 10-20 percent that report feeling more down in the winter months, you likely can feel it coming as the seasons start to change. It may feel like there’s no escaping the cold, gloomy weather that seems to zap your energy and lower your mood. Here are a few strategies that can help with coping through the winter months, whether you are impacted by SAD or simply want to find ways to have more energy this coming season.
- Prioritize Sleep: Many people with SAD experience insomnia or hypersomnia — sleeping too little or too much. Because sunlight helps sync your sleep/wake cycle with your circadian rhythm, a lack of sunlight can interrupt sleep. So, in the darker winter weather, improving the quality of your sleep will decrease depression symptoms. Getting sunlight when it is out there shining bright is essential. Even when it’s cold, bulk up and do your best to go for a little walk or read a book in the window.
- Don’t just sleep enough: have a schedule: This one is tough. Resist the urge to sleep in on weekend mornings. Commit to a schedule — set an alarm, practice good sleep hygiene (going to bed and waking up at roughly the same time every day), and put yourself and your mental health first. Exceptions will occur, but do your best to maintain a schedule and don’t be hard on yourself if/when you slip for a few days. You can always hit the figurative “reset button” and get back on track.
- Exercise Regularly: Regular exercise is a powerful way to improve your mood, especially in the winter months. Exercise boosts endorphins, serotonin and other beneficial neurotransmitters. Little known fact, exercise can actually treat some forms of mild to moderate depression as well as some antidepressant medications. Exercises that are continuous and rhythmic can often have the best effects (i.e. a long walk, biking, running, swimming, cross country skiing). If possible, try to get active for 30 to 60 minutes.
- Address Stress: Excessive stress anytime of year is uncomfortable, but can also be a major contributing factor to SAD. Take the time to proactively identify stressors in your personal and work life, then do your best to find proactive ways to manage it. Whether it be engaging in daily relaxation, better managing your work calendar, or spending more/less time with specific friends – these activities can go a long way in supporting your overall mood.
- Consider Professional Support: While many of these ideas can be a great start, it’s important to connect with professional support when they don’t get the job done. If you are feeling sad, down, and/or depressed for more than a few weeks this fall – it’s time to consider reaching out for support. Counseling in addition to other supports such as light therapy, seeing a nutritionist, in addition to the tactics listed above can have the best impact.
Please note, Seasonal Affective Disorder and other forms of depression can be incredibly overwhelming at times. It is essential to remember there is help and hope. If you or someone you know is experiencing thoughts of harming themselves or someone else call the National Suicide Prevention Hotline at 1-800-273-TALK, our crisis line at 1-844-493-8255, 9-11, or go to your nearest emergency room.