Habits to Help Seasonal Depression
Seasonal affective disorder affects more than 33% of Americans, and another 10% to 20% may have mild SAD.
This condition is a type of recurrent major depressive disorder in which episodes occur during the same time each year. Many suffer symptoms during the fall and winter months and begin to recover in early spring. Subsequently, SAD is often referred to as the winter blues.
While anyone can develop seasonal depression, some are more at risk than others. For instance, women are four times more likely than men to receive a diagnosis for SAD. The condition is also more common among those who live farther from the equator where sunlight is scarce for at least a few months each year. Age, a family history of depression, co-occurring mental illnesses, and substance use may also increase your chance of developing SAD.
While not everyone with seasonal depression experiences the same symptoms, there are a few common indicators that generally affect those with SAD. For example, many will notice feelings of hopelessness, changes in appetite, weight gain, fatigue, and irritability. Others may experience hypersomnia, difficulty concentrating, social anxiety, and even thoughts of suicide.
Regardless of which symptoms you experience, it’s important to remember that seasonal depression is common. Some might even say it’s a normal response to seasonal shifts in light and temperature. But that doesn’t mean you have to let SAD rule you. Incorporate these surprising habits to help seasonal depression into your routine to reduce symptoms and even find some joy during the colder months.
Wake Up With the Sun
Your body follows a circadian rhythm that synchronizes with a master clock in your brain. This internal timepiece responds to environmental cues, especially light, which is why you often feel sleepy when it’s dark and energized during the daytime.
When properly aligned, your circadian rhythm can promote consistent sleep patterns to help regulate your mood. Because winter days are often darker, this season can throw off your rhythm and create issues like insomnia and depression.
While you’ll never have full control over your internal clock, you can promote a healthy wake-sleep routine by rising with the sun. If the clouds are heavy, use a dawn simulator to gradually increase the level of light in your bedroom and wake up slowly.
Use a Light Therapy Lamp
Scientists aren’t entirely sure what causes SAD, but many believe it has something to do with decreased exposure to sunlight. As the winter days get longer and darker, the body’s melatonin production increases, making you feel sleepy or lethargic. People with SAD may also produce less vitamin D in response to sunlight, which could cause serotonin levels to dip during the colder months.
Luckily, researchers do know how to help SAD with artificial light. With the help of a UV-free light therapy lamp, you can easily boost vitamin D production and your mood. Sun lamps also aid in melatonin and serotonin regulation. One 30-minute session a day should do the trick.
Go for a Walk
Yes, it’s cold out there, but a bit of exercise does wonders to alleviate symptoms of seasonal depression. Exploring the outdoors can also boost your serotonin levels and keep you from becoming a hermit or wallowing in your bed all winter. These habits can leave you feeling even more blue.
Get your blood pumping and take a power walk around the neighborhood. Bundle up and head to a park or hit the trails at your local nature reserve. You can even walk around the local shopping mall if you want the all benefits of movement without the freezing temperatures.
Eat More Protein
Improving your diet can make you feel better mentally and physically. Including more protein may also help alleviate symptoms of SAD — or help you avoid them altogether.
Opt for lean proteins that carry plenty of amino acids. Chicken, turkey, eggs, and plant-based proteins are good sources of these mood-boosting compounds. They’ll also provide you with energy throughout the day, which can help you fight fatigue and stay awake until the sun goes down. Eat at least one helping a day to reap the benefits.
Limit Sugar Intake
Adding a lump of sugar to your coffee and nibbling on candy bars can certainly give you an energy boost. However, you’ll eventually run out of fuel and crash when all that sugar finally wears off. Then, you’ll feel worse than you did before.
Skip the sugar crash — and consequential mood dips — by avoiding carbohydrates and sugary foods and beverages. Opt for water or tea instead of juice and soda and enjoy natural sugars from healthy foods like fruit. You should also limit alcohol consumption, as some drinks contain high amounts of sugar, and liquor can exacerbate depression symptoms.
Create a Nighttime Routine
You know that rising with the sun is important, but so is going to bed at a decent hour. Because sleep plays such an important role in mood regulation, those with SAD should develop a bedtime routine that helps them wind down and get a full night’s rest.
Begin your routine by shutting off screens to limit blue light exposure. Blue light delays and reduces melatonin production, which can make falling asleep more difficult. Therefore, it’s best to read a book or adopt a similar healthy habit to improve sleep.
Sometimes, you just don’t feel like taking a walk or waking up early. On these days, choose to embrace Hygge. This Danish concept prioritizes coziness and peace above all else.
Create a warm atmosphere with candles or string lights and wrap up with a blanket and a steaming cup of tea. Take a hot bath or spend some time in quiet meditation. However you choose to practice Hygge, you’ll likely experience a heightened sense of well-being and deep inner peace, which can combat seasonal depression and related symptoms.
Knowing When to Get Help
Sometimes, even good habits aren’t enough to pull you out of the SAD pit. In this case, medicine or therapy may be more effective.
Talk to your doctor to determine how to fight seasonal depression and which solutions might be most beneficial in light of personal circumstances. With some consideration and guidance, you’ll feel better in no time.
Guest Writer Bio
Ginger Abbot is a learning and lifestyle writer with a special interest in mental health. Read more of her work by subscribing to the Classrooms newsletter!