This morning I had a difficult time rising from my bed. A familiar sense of dread surrounded me, transporting me back in time to a darker period of my life when it didn’t matter how bright the sun was shining – I couldn’t see it anyway.
My life has changed drastically since that season of my life, and I have been blessed with many days full of joy and peace. As I lay in bed pondering why that darkness was creeping around my mind’s edges when I knew, logically, that I didn’t truly feel that way, I realized I was not alone in this.
When the sun takes refuge further from our skies, the reduced sunlight causes a drop in serotonin that ushers in feelings of sadness and a loss of energy. While Seasonal affective disorder (SAD) doesn’t have a specific known cause or cure, there are steps you can take to prevent its worst outcomes. According to a Boston University study in 2019, SAD affects an estimated 10 million Americans – with a disproportionately higher amount of those millions already diagnosed with Major Depressive Disorder or Bipolar Disorder, especially women.
6 Ways to Combat Seasonal Affective Disorder
1. Know Your Risk Factor and Symptoms
SAD is a form of depression that most commonly occurs in those who have other mental disorders. If you have a diagnosed mental disorder – such as an anxiety or panic disorder, major depressive disorder, or many others – you may be at higher risk of developing SAD. Other risk factors include:
- Living far north of the equator
- Vitamin D deficiency
- Family history of mental illness
You can help combat SAD by paying attention to your symptoms so you are better equipped prior to their onset each year. Common symptoms include:
- Feeling down, depressed, sad, or moody for seemingly no reason
- Loss of interest in hobbies
- Difficulty sleeping or a change in sleeping pattern
- Low energy or feeling sluggish
- Suicidal thoughts
- Feelings of hopelessness or worthlessness
- Overeating or craving carbohydrates
Find more common symptoms and risk factors on the National Institute of Mental Health website. Keep track of your symptoms in your mental health journal so you can refer back to it next year.
2. Say Extra Affirmations
When I woke up dreading the upcoming day, I immediately turned to my favorite affirmation app called Believe, which is available for Android and iPhone for free (although I loved it so much that I invested in the paid premium features) and offers many categories of affirmations – including the option to add your own.
Do you suffer from anxiety or panic attacks while at the grocery store, driving, or at work? Contact an anxiety coach now.
By now you all know I love affirmations! During these difficult months, lean more heavily on the proven strategy of saying and writing affirmations. Add a space in your gratitude journal for a daily affirmation. Here are some ideas for your affirmation and gratitude journal:
- This is a temporary feeling. I know I will not feel this way forever.
- This season will pass.
- I choose to stay positive.
- I am proud of myself for getting through today.
- I am valued even when I am feeling worthless.
- I am bigger than my sadness.
- My life is worth living. I am worth it to see what happens on the other side of this season.
- No feeling lasts forever. I gracefully show myself patience and love while I wait for the hard feelings to fade.
This revolutionary software sends you millions of affirmations!
- Write a list of things you enjoy about winter
- Write about a fond winter memory you have
- Write about your family’s traditions, or make up a tradition you can implement
- Make a list of things you will do when it is warmer
- What warm heavy-furred animal would you be and why?
- Make up a cozy story to tell around the fireplace
3. Focus on Maintaining a Healthy Lifestyle
When we are depressed, it’s easy to fall into the tasty trap of carbs and sweets. It’s imperative to maintain a balanced diet to encourage your body to produce essential vitamins and nutrients, such as Vitamins D and B, and serotonin.
- Eggs are a great source of Vitamin B
- Pumpkin seeds, sunflower seeds, almonds, and peanuts all contain magnesium, which boosts serotonin levels
- Salmon, Tuna, and Mackeral are great sources of Omega-3
- Low-fat dairy products contain Vitamin D
- High-fiber grains such as sweet potatoes or oatmeal also promote serotonin
- Water! Drink plenty of water and stay hydrated
Along with diet, it is crucial to maintain a normal sleep cycle by avoiding daytime naps or excess caffeine. You can also boost serotonin by exercising regularly. Stay away from poor coping mechanisms like substances or isolation – keep up your social activity, even if it’s a simple text to your close friends.
4. Take a Vitamin D Supplement
While scientists do not have an exact answer to what causes Seasonal Affective Disorder, the leading theory links it to two distinct chemicals in our brains. SAD appears to decrease serotonin, the “happy chemical” in our brains that helps regulate our moods; and increase melatonin, which is essential in maintaining a proper sleep schedule.
Along with a balanced diet and an exercise routine, adding some extra Vitamin D has been recommended to help boost serotonin production missing from lack of sunshine. I prefer these Vitamin D gummies because I am not big on swallowing pills – or maybe that’s just my inner child!
5. Add an Extra Self-Care Ritual
Some ideas of winter self-care are:
- Random acts of kindness
- Take a warm bath with relaxing salts or soothing oat milk
- Laugh at something mundane, and keep that laughter going just for the heck of it
- Read a cozy book or re-read a favorite
- Have a warm cup of tea or hot chocolate
- Dedicate 5 minutes to mindfulness
- Try a new hobby or rekindle an old one
6. Light Therapy
Bright Light Therapy (BLT) also referred to as phototherapy, this treatment is the process of using an artificial bright light source that mimics the sun to encourage your body to produce serotonin. Continued exposure to bright light via light bulbs or light therapy boxes for their antidepressant effect has been proven to efficiently improve the disruptive sleeping patterns brought on by SAD.
If you’re finding it difficult to tap into the positive side of yourself, try the DBT (Dialectal Behavior Therapy) technique called half-smile. Relax your face from forehead to jaw, and turn your lips up in a tiny smile. You can use a pencil to get this technique down – just grip the pencil between your lips and you will notice they naturally have to upturn. It doesn’t need to be a real smile; this is used to send a signal to your automatic nervous system to increase the production of vital feel-good neurotransmitters.
During the coming months, it’s paramount that we take good care of ourselves and our mental health. I hope you find some of these ideas helpful. What self-care practices do you do more of during the cold months?
Stay safe and check on each other!
4 thoughts on “6 Ways to Keep Seasonal Depression From Pulling You Under”
Thank you for this, although i live below the equator on a warmer side of the planet, i can relate what much of what you articulated if anything everything that you articulated is quite relatable. And thank you again xx
I’m glad you found it helpful! Those risk factors certainly don’t mean they are the only reasons to be affected. It’s so important for all of us to take special care these coming months. Thanks for the comment and the share!
Reblogged this on The open book therapy.