Tips for Keeping Seasonal Depression at Bay

Today’s guest post about Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD) was written by Kimberly Hayes of Read on to find out what this disorder is, whether you might have it, and what steps you can take to help alleviate its symptoms.

“Most of us feel less energetic and upbeat during the winter, when the days are short and the weather is inhospitable. However, for some people, the winter blues are more than a fleeting phase. If you find yourself crippled by low energy and sadness throughout the winter, you may be experiencing a type of depression known as seasonal affective disorder.

What Is Seasonal Affective Disorder?

Seasonal affective disorder (SAD) primarily affects people living in northern areas where sunlight is extremely limited during the cold winter months. However, you don't have to live in a wintry climate to experience seasonal depression. Even in areas with mild winters, seasonal affective disorder can be triggered by the change in seasons.

SAD's list of symptoms is the same as other types of clinical depression: fatigue, apathy, insomnia, difficulty concentrating, and unexplained sadness are the primary symptoms identified by UCLA Health. And, like other forms of depression, it's important to take SAD very seriously. Although symptoms typically fade during the spring and summer, spending a portion of every year depressed can do long-term harm to your overall well-being.

What Can Be Done To Relieve Symptoms of SAD?

Light therapy, cognitive behavioral therapy, and medication are all proven effective against SAD.

  • Light therapy involves sitting in front of a box that mimics natural light. Patients are typically instructed to sit in front of the box for 30 minutes each morning, although the exact time and intensity varies from person to person.

  • CBT not only relieves the symptoms of seasonal affective disorder, but for some people, it also prevents SAD from recurring. CBT is a type of short-term talk therapy aimed at changing thought and behavior patterns.

  • Several antidepressant medications are effective against SAD. However, they may take several weeks to become effective. For that reason, people treating SAD with medication often need to begin treatment before winter begins.

If you prefer non-pharmacological treatments as your first line of defense, you’ll be pleased to know that about 50 percent of people with seasonal affective disorder see improvement from light therapy — and CBT is even more effective. However, don’t rush out and buy a light box just yet: The Cut warns that light therapy causes adverse effects in some people, so it’s best done under the supervision of a doctor.

The Importance of Self-Care for SAD

Self-care also improves symptoms of seasonal depression. Exercise is proven effective against depression, but working out isn’t the only form of self-care that can help. Eating a balanced diet, sleeping well, and spending time with loved ones are all harder when your mental health is suffering, but neglecting these important acts of self-care only makes it worse.

If you’re struggling to find the motivation for self-care, schedule out your days to include healthy routines. Routines make life feel less overwhelming when you’re depressed; when your day is laid out in clear, achievable steps, it’s easier to get started and follow through on your plans.

Also, don’t be afraid to go above and beyond with self-care while your moods are suffering. However, it’s important not to go overboard; there’s a fine line between self-nurturing and self-indulgence. If you’re buying things or using substances to distract yourself, then you should reassess how you practice self-care. A massage is an exceptional method of self-care that also has many benefits for SAD sufferers. First, therapeutic massage triggers the release of “feel good” chemicals in the brain; the same chemicals associated with a good mood and pleasure. Further, massage is an effective means of relaxation and allows you the chance to distract your attention from the darkness of the day.

Sometimes, self-help and natural therapies aren’t enough to solve seasonal depression. If you’ve tried these strategies but your depression continues to prevent you from living a full life, it’s time to pay another visit to your doctor. Your physician can recommend medication or other options for treating SAD so you can start enjoying life again.”