Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD) is diagnosed in the Diagnostic Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-5) by symptoms of depression that begin in the winter and remit in the spring, requiring at least 2 seasonal depressive episodes over the last 2 years. SAD can cause significant distress that impairs your ability to perform normal daily activities such as engaging in school, work, or hobbies. One in twenty people in the US experience SAD, and it is more common among women.
Many of us feel the winter blues without meeting the full diagnostic criteria for SAD. The short days and cold weather can make us feel fatigued, unmotivated, and gloomy. Even if it isn’t as severe as SAD, the winter blues can dampen our disposition and prevent us from feeling like our best selves.
If this sounds like you, you’re not alone! Here are some tips to combat SAD and the “winter blues”:
1. Maintain a consistent sleep cycle that aligns with daylight hours. Wake up when the sun comes up. Experience as much of the daylight hours as you can. And try to get to bed early to ensure you get sufficient sleep.
2. A better diet means more energy and a better mood to accomplish daily tasks. Adjust your diet to include less junk food and more whole foods. You are what you eat, so prioritize fresh produce and well-balanced meals. You’ll feel proud for prioritizing self-care in a necessary part of your day.
3. Incorporate regular exercise into your week. Humans were not designed to sit all day long. Exercise can help regulate mood, facilitate digestion, and promote more restful sleep. To keep yourself accountable, schedule your workouts at specific times of the week with a particular workout in mind. You can also work out with a friend virtually, or in person outdoors with masks. Some great options include weightlifting, bodyweight exercises, Pilates, yoga, running, or a brisk walk.
4. Schedule a hobby into your daily life, even if just for 15 minutes. This forces you to focus on yourself and feed your soul with activities that make you feel like your best self. That natural dopamine hit is good for you!
5. Create a sunny indoor environment. If you work from home, move your desk to the window, preferably south-facing if you’re in the northern hemisphere.
6. Take Vitamin D supplements. Vitamin D has been shown to help regulate mood. Vitamin D is made by our skin, but short days and limited time outside prevents us from getting our usual solar dose. You cannot make Vitamin D from sunlight shining through glass windows, unfortunately, so direct sunlight is important.
7. Spend time outside. This expands on the prior point. Breathe the crisp fresh air and feel the sun’s direct rays. An outdoor walk or even coffee on the porch should help. It’s also good to break the cycle of staring at walls, especially if you work from home. Staying in the house for days on end can mess with your perception of time and make you feel like you’re unproductive, in a rut, or boring.
8. Create additional light sources after sunset. Get a light therapy box to reactivate those light-seeking areas of the brain. At minimum, candles can help create a warm and cozy living space.
9. Take time out of your day to call or video chat with a friend, loved one, or therapist. We are social animals, even those of us who are introverts. Human connection can relieve anxiety, remind us that we’re not alone in our winter blues, and allow us to talk and think about other things. This helps us get out of a repetitive negative headspace.
10. Write down positive experiences and things you’re grateful for. This will encourage you to practice healthy levels of optimism, which can influence your mood for the rest of the day.
11. Buy a plant and thrive together. Organisms need sunlight. If your photosynthesizer can get through the winter, so can you. This also gives you someone to take care of other than yourself.
12. Look on the bright side of winter. Get excited for the post-snow glow, when the sun finally comes out and reflects off every snow-covered surface. The light will fill your house!
13. Create a ritual to look forward to at sunset. Maybe make tea, or light incense, or stretch on the floor. This creates a positive association with nightfall, and can make it feel like less of an “end” and more like a transition.
14. Leave the house, even if it’s already dark. Seeing other people at the store will remind you that it’s still daytime. It will help normalize doing daytime/evening activities despite the early sunset.
Make a conscious effort to try some of these tips as a self-care pursuit. Your health comes first, and everything else is influenced by your mood, perspective, energy, and wellness.
If you’re concerned you may have SAD, share your concerns with a therapist, psychologist/psychiatrist, or family doctor. You may benefit from antidepressants or other treatments in combination with the above lifestyle changes. Click here to find out more about how the therapists at Inner Clarity can help.