Seasonal affective disorder, sometimes abbreviated SAD, is a type of depression that occurs primarily in the fall and winter. One reason for this is that there is less sunlight, which can lead to depression in some people. Signs of seasonal depression are the same as the signs of regular depression, but the difference is that the symptoms tend to resolve as winter approaches and the days begin to shorten. Although the condition often self-resolves, the symptoms can last for months, so it’s important to find ways to ease them. Read on for a list of seven ways to relieve the symptoms of seasonal depression.
1. Get Outside
One problem during the winter is that many people leave their homes for work or school before sunrise and then return during or after sunset. If you have seasonal depression and you work indoors, part of your suffering could be caused by not seeing enough daylight. If you have a window in your office, try to position yourself in front of it.
More importantly, though, make the effort to get outdoors during the day. Even if it’s cold, cloudy, rainy, or snowing, you should still get outside for at least a few minutes. Go for a walk around the building or just sit outside on a bench for a little while. During the weekends, try to spend more time outside. Maybe go for a walk, go ice skating, or simply walk from store to store instead of drive while running errands.
Exercise is another way that you can ease your seasonal depression. In fact, studies show that any type of depression can be at least somewhat relieved by regular exercise. The goal is to get about 30 minutes of moderate physical activity each day. If you don’t have a half hour each day in one chunk of time, you can split it into three 10-minute intervals. Go for a quick walk in the morning, work out with a YouTube video before dinner, and try some yoga or stretching in the evening. Find ways to incorporate some movement into your days and watch your mood improve.
3. Eat Right
Eating rich, heavy, carb-filled meals is common in the winter, but focusing more on lean protein sources, whole grains, and fresh fruits and vegetables is more likely to help you feel less depressed. Don’t skip meals, even if you don’t feel hungry. If you don’t want to eat breakfast, try to nibble on a piece of fruit or drink a smoothie.
Also, be sure to stay hydrated. Even though you’re not sweating from warm weather, indoor heating systems can dry you out. Drink whenever you are thirsty and aim for six to eight glasses of water per day.
4. Spend Time With Others
Long, dark nights and gloomy weather during the day keeps many people inside and somewhat isolated during the winter. Even if you don’t feel like it, make the effort to get together with other people at least weekly. Something as simple as a cup of coffee at a cafe with your best friend or a walk around a shopping mall with a coworker on your lunch break can boost your mood and ease depression symptoms.
5. Consider a Light Therapy Box
Some people with seasonal affective disorder find that using a light therapy box helps them to feel better quickly. What a light box does is mimic natural light. To use one, you turn it on shortly after you wake up and have it pointed toward your face while not looking directly at it for about 20 minutes.
Be aware that people with certain health conditions such as diabetes or glaucoma might not be able to use them safely. Also, some light boxes emit ultraviolet rays; you should look for one made specifically for seasonal affective disorder that has a low UV level. Talk to your doctor or mental health professional about whether this is a feasible solution for you.
6. Get Your Vitamin D Level Tested
A common vitamin deficiency can be one cause of seasonal affective disorder. Vitamin D, which our bodies make in response to being exposed to the sun, is sometimes called the sunshine vitamin and is also added to milk in the United States. Low levels of vitamin D can cause or exacerbate depression. Because those in the northern hemisphere are exposed to less sun in the winter than in the summer, many people have low levels of the vitamin during the colder months.
Don’t go and take vitamin D supplements in excess of the recommended dietary allowance (RDA) without being tested. Because vitamin D is fat-soluble, you can overdose on it if you take too much. Ask your doctor to test your levels and if they are low, follow his or her directions to bring your level up to normal.
Spending a few minutes in the sun without sunscreen is another way to get a safe level of vitamin D; be sure to limit yourself to just a few minutes, however, to avoid putting yourself in danger of sunburn and skin damage.
7. Seek Mental Health Care
Seasonal depression is depression, and if you have symptoms of depression that are severe, are making you think about suicide, or that have lasted longer than two weeks, you should see a medical or mental health professional. You might benefit from cognitive behavioral therapy or you might need to take antidepressants during the winter months. Your doctor can go over all of the options with you. Often, a combination of therapies and lifestyle changes can be most effective against SAD.
If you or someone you know suffers from seasonal depression, you don’t have to just live with it and wait for spring! There are effective lifestyle changes, therapies, and medications that can help you feel good during the fall and winter months. Talk to your doctor if you’re having symptoms that are leaving you with no energy, a lot of sadness, or the desire to sleep all the time. You deserve to feel good all year long, and taking care of your mental health needs is one way to achieve that.