We're inching closer to the holiday season, and many are already bracing themselves for an unwelcome guest: seasonal depression.
This type of depression is known as seasonal affective disorder. It occurs most commonly in the fall and winter. In the United States, as many as 4% to 6% of people suffer from SAD. An additional 10% to 20% may experience milder symptoms.
What causes SAD in some people? Many experts believe that seasonal changes disrupt the circadian rhythm of our bodies. This is the 24-hour clock that regulates how we function and sleep. In turn, this explains why sometimes we feel energized and alert, but other times we feel exhausted.
The changing seasons are also thought to disrupt hormones that regulate sleep, mood, and feelings of wellbeing, such as serotonin and melatonin.
While SAD can have a variety of causes, its symptoms typically include the following:
Feelings of depression that last most of the day, every day, in a pattern that changes with the seasons
Daytime drowsiness or increased sleep
Fatigue or low energy
An increased appetite, especially for sweets and carbohydrates
Loss of interest in activities you once enjoyed
Irritability or anxiety
Around the same time of year, it’s not usual for symptoms to recur and then improve. Because there may be similarities between SAD symptoms and other mental disorders, however, it would be wise to consult a healthcare provider for a diagnosis. But, you can also ease season affective disorder using the following 10 techniques.
1. In the fall, prepare your mind.
As you prepare for the upcoming winter season, like preparing for a “hygge” lifestyle, you may also want to prepare your mind. For example, engaging in enjoyable activities that improve your mood. This could be going for a hike on a beautiful, crisp fall day, spending time with your family, picking up a new hobby, joining a social club, or volunteering.
It’s easier to regularly engage in these activities before the winter blues set in than to attempt to do so later on.
2. Stick a consistent schedule.
Sleeping and getting up in the morning are often problematic for people with SAD. Keeping a regular schedule, however, can help you sleep better, which can alleviate seasonal depression symptoms.
Furthermore, this will expose you to natural light on a consistent basis. And, to avoid weight gain from overeating eat at regular times.
3. Get outside for 10-minutes.
It's been shown that even short walks in nature can boost your mood, among other health benefits. As such, make it a point to get outside daily -- even when the weather isn’t pleasant, like when it’s about to snow. If you can. a quick stroll about your neighborhood or place of work will suffice.
Can’t get outside? Try to bring nature indoors. Some suggestions would be moving your work desk closer to the windows, trying light therapy, and caring for plants like succulents.
4. Build your schedule around self-care.
“As a mental health professional, I try to take the same advice I give to my clients: Schedule your life around self-care,” Victoria Goldenberg, a psychotherapist and media adviser for the Hope for Depression Research Foundation, told the Huffington Post on how she copes with seasonal depression.
“What this entails is time management that prioritizes breaks and vacations, as well as tending to my own appointments and family needs,” she said.
5. Exercise regularly.
Exercise, such as jogging or jumping jacks, has been found to be effective in treating non-seasonal depression, and experts suspect it may also be effective in treating seasonal depression.
Bonus points if you engage in winter-related activities that get your body moving like skiing or ice skating. This is also another way to absorb Vitamin D.
6. Eat well.
“Food and nutrition are powerful tools within our control to help our mental well-being,” says Dr. Uma Naidoo, M.D., director of nutritional and lifestyle psychiatry at Massachusetts General Hospital, faculty member at Harvard Medical School and author of This Is Your Brain on Food. She cautions against eating processed or junk foods because these foods disrupt gut bacteria and worsen mood. Rather, focus on more plant-based whole foods, such as;
Folate-rich foods like lentils and leafy greens
Fibrous foods, such as berries and whole grains
Iron-rich foods, like cruciferous vegetables and soy
Nuts and seeds rich in omega-3 fatty acids
Fermented foods filled with probiotics
7. Create social situations.
When it gets colder, we're more likely to stay at home and hunker down, which results in fewer social interactions. Connecting with others regularly may be beneficial this describes you. Engaging in social activities can elevate your mood. And, it can also help you distract yourself from your worries.
“Creating a new social obligation can motivate us,” says psychologist Scott Bea, PsyD. “Anything that makes you take part in activities that allow you to be engaged outside of your self-awareness is useful for people who are living with SAD.”
8. Keep a journal.
Journaling can be therapeutic as it can reduce stress, anxiety, and depression. It’s also effective in helping you solve problems, gain perspective, identify patterns, and build relationships with others.
If you need a starting point, try out the following 50 Therapeutic Journaling Prompts.
9. Go on a vacation or “staycation.”
If you’re able to, plan a vacation somewhere with a warm and sunny climate. Not only will this give you something to look forward to, but this also breaks up your daily routine, and gives you a chance to soak up the sun and take in some much-needed Vitamin D.
What if you can’t travel? Consider planning a “staycation.” Even though you aren’t in an exotic location, you can still take time off from work in order to relax and recharge.
10. Talk to your doctor or therapist.
If the recommendations above haven’t helped improve your mood and depression is interfering with your daily, don’t be afraid to talk to your doctor or therapist. A therapist can help guide you in changing any distorted views or coping advice. In some cases, you may be prescribed antidepressants to treat the chemical imbalance that may lead to SAD.