Notice yourself feeling more down around this time? You might notice the holidays are upcoming and instead of feeling joy, you feel neutrality or even guilt for not being able to muster excitement. Perhaps questioning to yourself why nothing is bringing joy? You might be one of the millions suffering from seasonal affective disorder—a form of depression that starts and ends with the fall starting and winter ending, and seems to have a stronger effect on women than men.
While not a totally separate type of depression, it is a specific form of depression that has its own set of symptoms and can catch you totally off guard if you aren’t aware it exists. You might not experience all of them, but some things to be on the lookout for as stated by NIMH:
- Feeling depressed most of the day on most days
- Feeling sluggish
- Low energy
- Craving for carbs
- Social withdrawal
- Changes to appetite or weight
- Feeling hopeless or worthless
- Urge to self harm or feeling suicidal
Some techniques might seem obvious—cut down on naps, increase exercise, and be mindful during mealtimes. Minimizing stressors is also significant as the less stress your body is experiencing, the easier it is to focus on mood stabilization and finding equilibrium.
However, combatting seasonal depression is about more than just self-care. Doctors suggest these main ways to you feel better in no time:
Light Therapy for Seasonal Affective Disorder aka SAD
It sounds like something super sketchy but is easy to do. SAD lamps are lamps or lightbulbs that you expose yourself to over the course of a day that helps make up for some of the decreased sunshine in the darker months! Usually, you sit in front of it for 30-45 minutes a day, typically in the morning, to help signal to your brain that it needs to make serotonin.
I personally like to use mine in the morning on my desk before my first client while I’m doing other maintenance tasks or drinking a cup of coffee! This can be an easy form of seasonal depression treatment, but be mindful if you have an eye condition or are sensitive to light. My recommendations below are found on Amazon.
Talking it out with SAD
It might seem silly to just ‘talk it out’ when depression is caused by seasonal changes, but studies conducted by the National Institute for Mental Health show that CBT or other talk therapies can be just as helpful. The study that followed patients for two winters “found that the positive effects of CBT seemed to last longer over time.” Not only can it help you learn to combat some of the negative thinking patterns, but can be helpful in decreasing stressors and regulating heart rate as well.
If therapy isn’t an option, talking with loved ones can be helpful as well. Creating a support system with people who know you in a variety of seasons is crucial not just for seasonal depression, but for a healthy life. Not bottling up thoughts and emotions is significant for mental health and also lets us know we are part of a tribe and belong as is. Whether it’s a coffee date or crying on a friend’s shoulder, talking it out is good for the brain.
Be proactive with SAD
If you are like many, seasonal depression won’t just happen one winter and never again. Instead, it’s typically recurring and you might start to notice signs as they are coming. It can be helpful as summer ends to get yourself prepped for the season before it’s hitting you hard. Sticking to a schedule is always included in the treatment plan for depression and it is no exception here. This can include creating blocks in your schedule to spend time with friends or family often, like every Thursday evening.
When weather, or COVID, makes it hard to connect with loved ones in real-time, you can rely more on FaceTime or phone calls. You might plan a vacation to a sunnier destination or adjust your sleep schedule to get the most light in the day. Additionally, it can be beneficial to add regular journaling to track your mood or thinking patterns. Heading into the season with a good idea of what happens for you and a good plan of attack can help decrease symptoms and give you momentum to move through easily.
While seasonal depression is common, nothing can replace a conversation with your doctor to ensure you are doing all you can. If you notice symptoms worsening or you are struggling to get through the day, reach out to local resources, therapists, or SAMHSA.
The biggest takeaway—if you experience depression, you are not alone. You might find some of these approaches work better than others, or you might mix and match! Remember it might be a temporary season, but you are worth prioritizing year-round.
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