For many, the upcoming seasonal time change can represent excitement. Holidays, cooler weather, and cozy atmospheres can be a mood boost and bring about a season of joy. However, according to the Cleveland Clinic, “about 10% to 20% of people in America may get a milder form of the winter blues.” Seasonal depression, also known as Seasonal Affective Disorder affects individuals during the autumn and winter time. No matter how joyous and fun this time may be for some, seasonal depression can sneak upon even those of us who enjoy this period. The good news is there are different methods to minimize the effects of SAD.
1. Natural Light:
About 1 billion people worldwide have vitamin D deficiency (Cleveland Clinic). Vitamin D provides many benefits, including combatting symptoms of depression. When the weather grows colder, it can be challenging for many people to go outside. If possible, try to go outside between 11 AM and 2 PM, even if momentarily. Otherwise, going outside any time the sun is up can be incredibly beneficial. Furthermore, adding light or vigorous exercise can further increase endorphins, relieving stress and increasing overall well-being.
2. Exercise Plan:
Exercising regularly has incredible benefits for mental and physical health. Nonetheless, when winter rolls around, even consistent exercisers can find trouble finding motivation to go outside in the cold. If you struggle to work out in the winter, coming up with an alternate game plan is an effective strategy. “I love to run, but I hate being cold and feeling my lungs swell with winter air,” says Dana. “In the winter, I go to my apartment complex gym and run on the treadmill.”
Luckily, we live during a time where apps and YouTube offer countless free workout videos with professional instructors. This makes exercising at home or indoors an option for those who prefer to stay indoors. Upkeeping an active routine is just as important in the winter than it is in all other seasons, especially if you experience winter blues.
3. Light Therapy:
Sometimes, going outside during the day isn’t an option for people who work indoors and/or can’t for various reasons. Other times, the body and mind crave more light. Depression lamps, or happy lamps are light boxes that offer a mood boost with their brightness. The Mayo Clinic describes depression lamps: “A light therapy box mimics outdoor light. It’s thought that this type of light may cause a chemical change in the brain that lifts your mood and eases other symptoms of SAD, such as being tired most of the time and sleeping too much.”
Using a happy light for an hour each day can create positive mood changes in as little as a few days; however, it can also take a couple weeks. Happy lights come in different sizes, making them convenient for a work desk or personal space.
While self-care is always important, knowing when to up your self-care game is equally as significant. If you‘re aware the winter season affects your well-being, it might be the time to add more self-care to your routine. Of course, this looks different for everyone and can change during the various seasons. For instance, in the summer, self-care might look like spending time at the pool and reading a book, but in the winter this may not be possible. The winter version of this could look like a warm bath and reading.
Developing a self-care plan is important in general. To figure out what self-care means to you, try brainstorming and writing the scenarios in which you feel the most peace, relaxation, and fun. Painting, cooking, watching YouTube videos, making time for friends, and creating space for alone time are just a few examples of prioritizing well-being. Anything that brings about a sense of genuine peace and enjoyment is a guaranteed mood-booster.
5. Support System:
Again, having a support system is important ALL the time, but particularly during times of extra struggle. One symptom of depression can be isolation, and this often happens without a person fully realizing they are detaching. Having a support system, whether it’s a close friend, family member or therapist is essential. Confiding in people we trust can be life-changing. If someone knows that you struggle with seasonal depression, it can help them support you during this challenging time. Often, just having someone to talk to and offer a listening ear is all it takes.
If therapy isn’t an option or you don’t have people to talk to, anonymous online support groups and helpful online threads exist for a similar purpose.
As exciting as the time change and autumn and winter seasons can be, they can also create difficulty for many people. Taking the time to prepare for different conditions can be the key in surviving, and possibly even thriving throughout this time. Receiving natural light is key, but using artificial light is another efficient option. Creating time and space for self-care is a way to show yourself love and support. Finally, talking out our struggles and perceptions creates deep and vulnerable connections. In turn, this creates a sense of belonging and acceptance that can uplift us, even during our darkest times.
If you or someone you know may be struggling with suicidal thoughts, you can call the U.S. National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 800-273-TALK (8255) any time day or night, or chat online. Crisis Text Line also provides free, 24/7, confidential support via text message to people in crisis when they dial 741741.