Do you feel gloomy when long, sunny days get shorter and darkness creeps in earlier? If so, you’re certainly not alone. Many people start to feel “the winter blues” when daylights savings time ends. Although we gain an hour of precious sleep, we lose time to soak up the benefits of sunlight as daylight savings comes to a close. As a result, roughly 10 million Americans experience seasonal affective disorder (SAD), which is a form of depression that is most common during fall and winter months. However, there are many ways to alleviate seasonal depression, so keep reading to learn more about SAD and how to nix symptoms in their path!
What Is Seasonal Depression?
Seasonal affective disorder, also known as seasonal depression, is a type of depression that sets in around the same time each year. SAD occurs during a change of seasons and is most common during wintertime when people have less access to sunlight. SAD typically dissipates when sunny days return in spring and summer. However, some people experience the opposite pattern and feel gloomy when it’s warm outside and joyful during the colder seasons.
What causes SAD? Some medical experts believe that seasonal changes disrupt the circadian rhythm, which regulates the way that we sleep and how we function throughout the day. When your internal clock gets knocked off-kilter, you can feel zapped, tired, and uninterested in just about anything. Also, physicians think a change in seasons can affect hormones that regulate sleep, well-being, and mood, like serotonin and melatonin. Research also shows that women, people who live far from the equator, and those with a pre-existing diagnosis of depression are more susceptible to SAD.
Seasonal Depression Symptoms
No matter what time of year someone experiences seasonal depression, their symptoms tend to start mildly and persist more severely as the season progresses. If the symptoms below resonate with you during a specific time of year, you could be experiencing SAD.
Signs of seasonal depression can include:
- Persistent feelings of depression
- Loss of interest in activities you typically enjoy
- Low energy
- Sleeping trouble or insomnia
- Difficulty concentrating
- Feelings of hopelessness
- Changes in appetite
SAD can feel debilitating, but it’s nothing that a healthy treatment plan can’t fix. Here’s how to replace darkness with light (literally)!
How to Treat Seasonal Affective Disorder
1. Try light therapy.
If natural sunlight isn’t available, then fake it! Mayo Clinic recommends light therapy for anyone suffering from SAD. It mimics the sun to provide you with the nourishing benefits of daylight when you can’t get them from mother nature.
To try light therapy, all you need is a light box, also known as a sun lamp, and a schedule that works best for you. Experts recommend sitting about 16 to 24 inches in front of a 10,000-lux sun lamp for 20 to 30 minutes. The majority of people who use light therapy feel the most relief when it’s done early in the morning. If you’re wondering who has time to sit in front of a sun lamp for 30 minutes, don’t worry. You can implement light therapy into your morning routine in various ways: as you apply makeup, when you read emails, during your morning coffee, as you make breakfast, while you watch the news, or while you’re doing practically anything else.
After consistent daily use, you may start to feel the effects of light therapy within a few days or weeks. There are many different light boxes available, so talk with your doctor about high-quality options and how to best utilize light therapy for your personal needs.
2. Clean up your sleep hygiene.
Maintaining a regular sleep schedule is one of the best things you can do for your body if you have SAD. Since the change of seasons can affect your circadian rhythm, try to regulate your sleeping patterns as much as possible with sleep hygiene. People who experience SAD tend to have trouble falling asleep and waking up in the morning, so the more you can improve your sleep schedule, the better! Some ways to practice sleep hygiene include:
- Waking up and going to sleep at the same time every day (even on weekends)
- Avoiding caffeine four to six hours before bed
- Creating an inviting sleep environment
- Using your bed for sleep only (creating the ultimate sleepy sanctuary)
- Avoiding daytime naps
- Keeping up with your daytime routine
- Going to sleep when you’re truly tired
- Keeping technology out of the bed
- Implementing a pre-sleep schedule: turning down the lights, reading, stretching, meditating, practicing breathing exercises, and drinking caffeine-free tea.
3. Take care of yourself.
Like other forms of depression, SAD can be alleviated with self-care, like eating a nutritious, vibrant diet and exercising regularly. Even though you may feel less motivated than ever when experiencing SAD, try to stock your fridge with healthy foods and work out anyway. Buy your favorite healthy foods and hit up fitness sessions that make you feel happy. Whether you feel better after yoga, Pilates, lifting weights, or kickboxing, exercise however you want, and do it a lot! Self-care is all about you, so show yourself some love and take care of your body in ways that best serve you, especially if you have seasonal depression.
4. Stay social.
On dark, chilly days, it can be tempting to stay in bed and hide from society. Going outside may even seem impossible. However, isolation can reinforce SAD symptoms and keep you stuck in a funk. Of course, personal days are necessary here and there, but if you’re continuously ignoring friends and family and turning down plans, then something may be wrong. Try your best to engage in conversations and surround yourself with loved ones (including pets!) to shift your focus and bring some positivity into your life.
5. Rest your mind.
SAD, along with any other depression or anxiety disorder, can cultivate negative thinking patterns. If you’re having a lot of negative thoughts, try giving your mind a break with some R&R. To cope with seasonal depression, Mayo Clinic suggests tuning in to the mind-body connection with techniques that can help you feel better inside and out, like:
- Music therapy
- Art therapy
- Guided imagery
Shifting your focus to an uplifting experience can break negative thought patterns and fill your mind with more positive thoughts. Another great way to think more positively and rest your mind from negativity is by practicing gratitude and honing in on the good things that fill your life.
If you think you could have seasonal depression, talk to your doctor about your symptoms and ways to feel better. Did you know that short-term health insurance plans provided by Vera Health include coverage for doctor visits? Learn more about short-term health insurance or how to use your doctor visit benefits by calling 888-499-1187, or visit us online to learn more about our flexible coverage options.