Healthy Habits to Try If You’re Struggling with Seasonal Depression 

 

Seasonal Depression, or Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD), is very different than just having the “winter time blues.”  It is normal to experience feeling a little more down during the colder months.  Seasonal Depression can be very debilitating and is a diagnosable Major Depressive Disorder with seasonal patterns.  It is usually triggered by the change in seasons and is most common to begin showing symptoms in the late Fall and usually persists through Winter and until the Spring.   

 

Symptoms

Some of the symptoms mimic that of Major Depressive Disorder including: sadness, feeling down or depressed most of the day almost daily, extreme fatigue and lack of energy, feeling hopeless or worthless, trouble concentrating, carbohydrate cravings and weight gain, feeling irritated or agitated.  Although researchers do not know exactly what causes Seasonal Depression, lack of sunlight might trigger symptoms to emerge. When there is less sunlight, your biological clock shifts.  This internal clock regulates your mood, sleep and hormones.   

 

Coping Tips

 

Since sunlight also helps regulate our Serotonin levels, the lack of sunlight in the winter can make the situation worse, increasing odds to develop more Depression symptoms.  Serotonin levels also get a boost from Vitamin D.  Since there is less sunlight in the winter, this can lead to a Vitamin D deficiency.  Research suggests that taking a daily Vitamin D supplement can help boost mood levels with the lack of sunlight.  Even just opening curtains or blinds to let the natural light in can have mood-boosting effects. Sit near windows when you can and don’t close curtains or blinds until the evening.  

 

There are also sunrise lamps and light bulbs that also mimic outdoor light that can be easily found in hardware stores or online.  The light in these phototherapy bulbs are about 20 times brighter than regular indoor lamps or bulbs.  It is recommended that if you purchase such lamp or bulbs, that you do not look directly at the light and you should be having indirect exposure (i.e.: sit about 2-3 ft. away from the lamp while you engage in reading, eating, working or doing other activities.  People generally see improvement in symptoms after a few days but it may take about two weeks to reach full benefits.  It is recommended that you use these lights throughout the entire winter as SAD symptoms can return quickly after stopping light therapy. 

 

Another way to increase your Vitamin D levels is to get outside.  Even if it is for only a few minutes a day, can boost your mood.  Taking a short walk around the block, going to the park, or just sitting in the backyard can all help.  If you enjoy outdoor activities for exercise, go for a walk or a run and try to get at least 30 minutes of exercise 2-3 times per week.  Exercise relieves anxiety and stress which can exacerbate SAD symptoms.  Another supplement that is helpful for mood-boosting is a Vitamin B Complex.  Please make sure you consult with your physician before taking any new supplements to avoid any interactions.  Even if exercise is not an option, walking or driving around watching the fall foliage, the snow, and the holiday lights can be very therapeutic in itself.   

 

It is also important to keep up social ties during this time.  During the winter months, there are less opportunities to get outside and it is very easy to isolate at home, especially in the colder months.  Try to engage with friends or family, even texting or talking on the phone if you can’t get out.  Keeping up with regular activities and engaging in things you enjoy with friends or family that is supportive, can make all the difference in your mood.  Even planning a trip or outing can not only be restorative but can give you something to look forward to. 

 

Keeping into a daily routine with normalized sleep patterns can also help alleviate SAD symptoms. Since it is dark more, people may experience more daytime fatigue as well as sleep disruptions.  Schedule consistent times to wake up and go to bed each day.  Try to eliminate napping or oversleeping during the winter months.  Within your daily routine, make times to eat and hydrate, trying to focus on some mood boosting foods.  Drinking water with electrolytes, eating foods rich in protein, limiting carbs and fatty foods (which tend to make us feel tired after eating), and avoiding too much caffeine or alcohol and/or drugs.  Also, sugary foods can give you that momentary burst of energy, but the crash that usually follows may make you feel even more tired and unmotivated. 

 

Another helpful tip is exploring solitary hobbies to occupy your time if you are spending more time indoors.  Activities that engage in hand-eye coordination have direct benefits to alleviating depression and anxiety symptoms.  Some activities can include: doing a puzzle or word search, crossword puzzles, drawing and doodling, painting, using adult coloring books, cooking and baking, and building things like a Lego set or model.  Journaling or guided journaling can also help you get in touch with how you feel and why.  The completion of a task, along with using the stimulation of hand-eye activities, can help reduce negative mood symptoms, even if you are only engaging in them for as little as a half hour per day. 

 

Lastly, engaging in talk therapy can be very beneficial during this time.  Not only does it foster connectedness, but it gives you an outlet to share about your symptoms and ways to combat them.  Therapeutic support can be crucial in helping to give ideas and ways to manage your symptoms so they don’t feel so debilitating.  Also with therapy, some benefit greatly from taking prescription medication to help stabilize your symptoms and reduce discomfort.  Therapy can also be beneficial to help you discover patterns of depression such as when your depression starts and what seems to either make it better or worse.  Don’t let the “winter blues” get you down.  With these tips, you or your loved ones can help decrease SAD symptoms and get back to enjoying life no matter how cold or dark it may be outside. 

 

Treatment at Harmony Bay Wellness 

If you are going through mental health struggles such as seasonal depression that make finding happiness impossible for you to do alone, it’s time to reach out for help. Harmony Bay offers a therapy treatment for depression and anxiety. Our licensed therapists or psychiatrist will create individualized treatment plans to help you work through your mental health struggles. Reach out to Harmony Bay for mental health treatment today. Contact us today at 855.857.6050. 

 

Published on 12/22/2022 | Written by Harmony Bay Therapist, Nicole Drake, LPC, LCADC, ACS