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8 Tips For Combating Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD)

The “winter blues”—we’ve all experienced them. As the temperature drops and the sun disappears, we find ourselves more sluggish, more lethargic and irritable, especially in the mornings. There’s a collective consciousness surrounding seasonal change that leaves us all feeling a little, well, blue.

For some people, however, this change in mood is actually more severe and part of a larger, annual depressive cycle: Seasonal Affective Disorder.

Seasonal Affective Disorder or SAD is a type of depression in which people experience major depressive episodes or drastic mood changes due to seasonal weather shifts. The drop in temperature and sunlight impacts melatonin and serotonin levels in the body, causing feelings of extreme exhaustion, hopelessness, and apathy.

For most people affected by SAD, the onset comes in the fall or winter seasons with relief in the spring and summer. Not to be confused with more universal weather-related mood changes, Seasonal Affective Disorder is a diagnosable form of major depression, and affects approximately 10 million Americans every year.

We’re talking more than a little crankiness. If you’re finding it difficult to get out of bed every morning or go to sleep at night, if you lose interest in your usual hobbies or social activities during the colder seasons, or if you are experiencing feelings of bleakness or suicidal thoughts, you may be experiencing SAD and should speak to a psychologist or your primary care doctor.

While there is no quick and easy cure for Seasonal Affective Disorder, or any other form of depression, for that matter, the good news is that the condition can be managed with the proper care, some loving attention, and tapping into resources.

Below, read up on 8 ways you can combat Seasonal Affective Disorder:

1. Talk to a professional about supplements and medication

As SAD is a diagnosable condition, sharing your concerns with a general physician or therapist is a great place to start to learn about your treatment options. A professional can assess whether you have any dietary insufficiencies, such as low Vitamin D levels, that may be affecting your overall mood.

Supplements may be recommended to regulate your energy levels, or, if necessary, a psychiatrist may prescribe antidepressant medication.

If you notice a drastic and annually recurring change in your mental or emotional health, do not ignore it. Get evaluated by a medical professional and explore medication options.

2. Change up your morning routine

SAD often hits the hardest in the mornings, when people first wake up and can’t seem to get out of bed. Symptoms are only exacerbated by early morning inactivity or stagnation. If your morning routine involves laying in bed, staring at the ceiling, hitting the snooze button multiple times, or mindlessly scrolling social media, you may be feeding the negative energy surrounding your condition.

Try opening the blinds or curtains as soon as you get up. This influx of natural light is an instant sign to your body that your day has started.

Melatonin is a hormone naturally produced by the body that regulates our sleep. Darkness triggers the body to produce more melatonin, which is why the darker winter months tend to leave us feeling more tired and sluggish. This feeling is magnified for those living with SAD, and exposing yourself to sunlight first thing in the moment is a great way to trick the body into elevated energy levels.

3. Try light therapy

Light or phototherapy is a common treatment approach to SAD. For half an hour to one full hour a day, sit near a UV-free light box.

Light boxes give off artificial light that mimics natural sunlight which trigger brain chemicals linked to sleep and mood, and can bring relief to SAD symptoms.

While you can purchase a light box on your own, it is a good idea to talk to your doctor or therapist about the high quality commercial phototherapy options on the market, and how best to work the practice into your daily routine.

4. Get moving

You don’t have to run miles or become a bodybuilder, but getting active for 20 to 30 minutes a day is proven to positively impact overall physical, mental, and emotional health and wellness.

Exercise is nature’s greatest antidepressant. Combat the lethargy brought on by SAD with a bit of daily activity.

As an added bonus, take your workout outside. A brisk walk in the morning not only gets your blood pumping, but exposes you to additional natural sunlight.

5. Keep up with your daily or weekly routine

In the fall and winter months, it can become easy to neglect our normal routines. It’s cold outside, and venturing out of the house for social events seems to demand too much energy. For individuals living with Seasonal Affective Disorder, however, it’s critical to maintain as much normality in your routine as possible.

Holding fast to the things you love like good friends and fun hobbies keeps you anchored to positive energy, which counteracts the symptoms of SAD.

If you cannot muster the energy to be a social butterfly, don’t worry. Simply implement some regimented activities you can do in your own time from the comfort of your own home. Be it learning a new recipe or reading a good book, punctuating your day with activities you look forward to helps combat depressive episodes.

6. If finances permit, make time to travel

Sometimes we can’t escape the grip of the cold, and that’s okay. If circumstances allow and you can manage the time off, you may find it helpful to take an annual trip during the winter.

Even if you can only get away for a few days, traveling allows you to escape the cold and darkness and reset your mood and outlook somewhere warm and comforting.

Because SAD is a yearly occurrence, you can plan in advance to take time off to prioritize your mental health with a trip.

7. Take up meditation

Mindfulness practice is a wonderful way to stay on top of mood fluctuation.

Meditation allows us to remain tuned in to the present moment, which helps us focus on the good and improve general outlook on life.

I’m a big advocate for meditation as a regular part of a healthy wellness routine, but if you find yourself struggling with seasonal depression, definitely consider picking it up as the weather begins to shift.

8. Reach out to friends and family for support

Perhaps the most damaging aspect of depression is the isolation it causes. Many who live with Seasonal Affective Disorder may withdraw from their friend circles and seem to disappear for weeks or months at a time.

If you know you are prone to social isolation when you’re not feeling your best, notify trusted friends or family members about your SAD.

While no one can cure your symptoms, loved ones can offer much needed support and be a presence of love and comfort during trying times. Even if you choose to keep to yourself, just knowing that you have people there to lean on should you choose to can work wonders for uplifting the spirit.

DO YOU FIND THAT YOUR MOOD SEVERELY CHANGES WITH THE WEATHER OR SEASONAL SHIFTS? DO YOU THINK YOU MIGHT BE EXPERIENCING SEASONAL AFFECTIVE DISORDER? Call Dr. Logan Jones for a phone consultation, today.

Dr. Logan Jones is a psychotherapist operating his private practice, NYC Therapy + Wellness, in the Flatiron district of New York. Logan works with clients to unveil the root causes and address the symptoms of a range of disorders and concerns, including anxiety, depression, low self-esteem, addiction and behavioral problems, identity issues, and more. To book an appointment or consultation to evaluate your unique needs, call Dr. Logan at 646.798.8354.

For more daily inspiration, follow Dr. Logan Jones on Instagram: @drloganjones