If you begin to feel down around the same time each year, you might have Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD), also known as seasonal depression. You might feel sluggish and have lower energy levels than normal. Maybe you are struggling to sleep or sleeping too much. You might feel apathetic about activities that normally energize you. You could even feel utterly hopeless. If you are so down that you can’t function or you are having suicidal thoughts, get help right away. The phone number for the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline is 800-273-8255. If you just need a little nudge toward the light, consider the following lifestyle changes that can be effective at fighting off seasonal depression.
Get Outside More
Going outside is beneficial in two important ways. First, being out in nature is a well-established mood booster. It promotes feelings of peace and well-being. Second, getting outside in the daytime increases your exposure to sunlight. Reduced sunlight lowers both serotonin and melatonin levels. Drops in these brain chemicals are associated with the onset of SAD. Additionally, light exposure helps regulate your circadian rhythm. When your circadian rhythm, or biological clock, is disrupted, depression can ensue. Furthermore, your skin needs sunlight to naturally formulate vitamin D. Low levels of vitamin D are linked with fatigue and depression. During the winter months, get outside as much as you can. And remember, there is no such thing as weather that is too cold—only being underdressed!
Stay Connected to Friends and Family
Depression likes to isolate people, but that is exactly the opposite of what you need. Connection with others promotes emotional well-being and a sense of security. Instead of turning inward when you experience seasonal depression, reach outward. Find more ways to spend time with people. Set up lunch dates. Join a club or team. Host a game night. Find a walking buddy. Visit family. You may not initially feel like being around other people, but once you put yourself out there and start interacting, you will feel an immediate uplift.
Use a SAD Lamp
If you are unable to get sufficient sunlight, you can still benefit from light therapy using SAD lamps. Light therapy is commonly used to treat seasonal depression. Light emitted from these lamps mimics that of the sun, minus the harmful UV rays. This light promotes serotonin release, and daily use can also help to regulate your circadian rhythm. Allow the lamp to shine toward your face (but not directly in your eyes) each morning when you wake up. Around 20 to 30 minutes should do it. When choosing a SAD lamp, look for a wide screen and be certain that it is UV free. Some SAD lamps double as regular desk lamps when you change the setting.
Keep Your Home Warm
The last thing you want when you are suffering from seasonal depression is to freeze your tail off from the moment you roll out of bed to the time you crawl back in, shivering. A warm house promotes emotional health. It might be worth turning your thermostat up a few degrees when you wake up. A programmable thermostat can control the settings, ensuring a warm and cozy house by the time you wake up, and conserving energy by automatically turning down the heat while you sleep. If it is unaffordable to crank the heater up, provide yourself with some zonal heat from a fireplace. Gas fireplaces are efficient heat sources that also promote a cozy ambience. The fireplace won’t warm the entire house, but you can park in front of the fireplace and only heat the space you use. But be aware. A fireplace requires maintenance to keep clean and run efficiently.
Get Some Exercise
Breaking a sweat might be the last thing you feel like doing when you are feeling blue, but exercise is as close to a silver bullet as we’ve got when it comes to promoting physical and emotional health. For some people, exercise is as effective as an antidepressant at treating mild depression. This is due to a combination of factors. Exercise makes you feel better about yourself, provides a healthy outlet, engages your mind, and releases endorphins. If getting a workout is a struggle, change something up and see if that helps. Some people do best with working out first thing in the morning. Others prefer taking a brisk walk during their lunch break. Enrolling in a fitness class or exercising with a friend motivates some people, while others use their workout for a little alone time. Find what works for you and commit to doing it!
Eat Your Way to Emotional Health
Your body’s mood regulation system has a hard time counteracting the rollercoaster of highs and lows that sugar and other simple carbohydrates puts you through. Newton’s third law applies here. For every sugar high, there is an equal and opposite crash. This is something to avoid, especially during bouts of seasonal depression. Focus on eating a diet rich in lean protein, healthy fats, and complex carbohydrates from whole grains, fruit, and veggies. These types of foods provide steady energy levels and regulated blood sugar. Go one step further and consume mental health-promoting foods such as salmon, nuts, spinach, avocados, and plain yogurt.
Laughter really is the best medicine. Laughter relieves stress, eases anxiety, alleviates pain, and fights depression. Specifically, it reduces blood cortisol and increases serotonin and dopamine activity in the brain. With smartphones, social media, and myriad streaming apps, a good belly laugh is only a click away. Get one in as often as possible!
Just because your depression is seasonal doesn’t mean it shouldn’t be treated. A medical doctor can prescribe effective medications that can help you get through the winter. They can also assess you for other underlying conditions. Another excellent resource is a qualified therapist. Everyone could use a little time talking with someone skilled in the art of opening and freeing the mind from destructive mental habits.
Seasonal depression is not something you should have to simply get through. You deserve to thrive at all times of the year. Make one change today and see if life gets even a little bit brighter.
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