As the days get shorter and the colder months begin to creep in, many of us notice our moods, sleep, energy, and overall functioning begin to change. Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD), is also known as seasonal depression. It can occur through the year, but winter-pattern SAD, or the winter blues, is most common.
Symptoms often include a sad or empty mood, irritability, loss of interest in activities, fatigue, difficulty concentrating, changes in sleep and appetite, physical aches and pains, and social withdrawal.
It can be disheartening to feel Seasonal Affective Disorder return each year, but there are a few tips that can help us cope.
- Light Therapy and/or Sunlight Exposure
Shorter daylight hours and less natural sunlight exposure are major contributors to SAD. As a result, it can help to increase your light exposure in whichever way works best for you. When engaging in light therapy, you sit in front of a very bright lamp for about 30 minutes each day. Standard SAD light therapy uses a 10,000 LUX lamp, which can be found online. The lamp mimics the sun, and is much brighter than typical indoor light.
You may also try to get 30 minutes of natural sunlight each day. It is recommended to try to view light, whether your lamp or the sun, first thing in the morning. Early morning sun exposure has been shown to improve the circadian rhythm, leading to better sleep and more energy throughout the day!
- Vitamin D
Research has shown that vitamin D has a positive impact on depression. Sunlight promotes vitamin D production in our bodies, so with a general lack of sunlight during the winter months, it may be beneficial to increase vitamin D intake. This is commonly achieved through a D3 supplement, but there are a few foods that contribute to its production as well: salmon, cod liver oil, tuna, orange juice or dairy/plant milks that are fortified with vitamin D, sardines, egg yolks, and fortified cereals.
While taking vitamin D, it is also recommended to take vitamin K2; they work together in the body.
Speak with your healthcare provider before beginning new supplements. Vitamin D may interact with some medications.
Moving our bodies has numerous physical and mental health benefits. Research shows that exercise can be as effective as antidepressants for some people. If you’re feeling up to it, outdoor movement is very beneficial because of the added bonus of light exposure. Although the fatigue and lack of motivation that accompanies SAD may make exercise feel like a difficult feat, any type of movement that you can incorporate into your day may help. Taking a few minutes to stretch when you wake up, following along with a yoga flow on YouTube, or dancing to your favorite songs can all have a positive impact on your mood!
- Social Engagement
As many experienced firsthand during quarantine, research shows that social isolation can contribute to depression. Social engagement can positively impact our moods and feelings of connection. Spending time with friends or family that feel good to be around is a great way to cope with SAD. However, it may be difficult to make plans or leave the house during these months. Video chat is also an effective way to socialize with loved ones!
Self-care comes in many forms. Whether it’s a hot bath or setting boundaries with family during the holiday season, making yourself feel cared for, doing what is best for you, and taking time to intentionally relax are great ways to cope.
Additionally, talking to a therapist about Seasonal Affective Disorder can be very beneficial. If you’d like to talk about how you’re feeling or learn more about how to cope with SAD, please feel free to send me a message at firstname.lastname@example.org, or book an appointment here!