The National Institute of Mental Health defines Seasonal Affective Disorder, or SAD, as “a type of depression that comes and goes with the seasons, typically starting in the late fall and early winter and going away during the spring and summer.” While summer depression is prevalent, it is not as typical as the winter blues.
On top of the seasons changing, less sunlight, and shorter days, we are living in very strange times. Many of us feel insecure about our future, and this can breed anxiety too, which contributes to depression rates tripling during the pandemic.
That said, there are some steps you can take to manage your anxiety or symptoms and find the mental relief you need to make it through the winter months. Here are a few methods for combating SAD.
The absence of light is one of the reasons people feel more depressed in the winter months, so it’s no surprise that light therapy is one of the most common and effective treatment methods. This could mean purposefully taking walks during daylight hours, especially when it’s sunny outside. You can also purchase specialized artificial lights for your home—these are particularly effective if you use them in the morning.
You can consume vitamin D through your diet, but you may not receive a high enough dose to be effective. Instead, consider purchasing a vitamin D supplement, or have your doctor prescribe a higher-concentrated version of vitamin D, such as 10,000 IU or 50,000 IU.
Maintaining a healthy diet is critical for both physical and mental health. There’s nothing wrong with indulging in comfort foods, but those items don’t have to be packed with sugar or unhealthy fats. Pull back on the sweets and consider a veggie-packed salad or a hot bowl of soup to warm you up.
When you’re feeling down, the last thing you may want to engage in is physical activity. But you should try to push yourself with aerobic workouts—particularly ones you can do outside in the sunshine or under bright light. It can have a positive impact on your mood, releasing endorphins to balance out the sadness and anxiety. Walking, biking, running, hiking, and jumping rope can all help.
Depending on the severity of your symptoms and the impact they’re having on your daily life, your doctor may prescribe medications to help you manage your symptoms. Most commonly, these will be antidepressants, such as selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors.
Discussing your feelings and experiences with a professional counselor, therapist, social worker, or psychiatrist can help you get through these darker days. Therapy can also teach you to recognize triggers and how to cope with anxiety. In my private practice, I see major shifts in many of my clients as they learn and gain better coping skills. Cognitive behavioral therapy, in particular, has shown promise in treating seasonal depression and anxiety in general.
Life goes in waves. Seasons will come and go; it is inevitable. Healing will come. If you are suffering, please reach out to a loved one, friend, colleague, or hotline for help!
If you or a loved one is struggling with thoughts of suicide, call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-8255 [TALK]. The hotline is there for free confidential emotional support 24 hours a day, seven days a week.
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