Have you noticed that the days are much shorter and darker this time of year? These changes in weather and light can affect our mood and energy levels. Over 10 million Americans are estimated to have seasonal affective disorder (SAD) or seasonal depression. The cold days, long nights, and isolation of winter can make it seem like seasonal depression is inescapable. But there are a few things you can do to make your winter days brighter.
7 Ways to Stay Well in the Face of Seasonal Depression
1. Create a schedule
Many of those affected by seasonal depression or SAD note that they struggle to keep a consistent sleep schedule. Sometimes they struggle to fall asleep at all while at other times it feels like they just can’t wake up. To combat these sleep issues, creating a daily schedule for yourself can help. Try to go to bed and wake up around the same time every day. Also, plan on having meals on a consistent schedule as well. This helps your body get into a rhythm that is otherwise disrupted by the lack of sunlight in the colder months. To keep your body’s rhythm in check, you’ll have to stick to your schedule most of the time. It might be tempting to stay up late on a Friday night and sleep in the next morning, but it isn’t worth upsetting your body’s schedule.
2. Let the light in
While many things are thought to be linked to seasonal affective disorder or seasonal depression, the lack of sunlight is believed to be one of the biggest contributors to the disorder. Keep your curtains and blinds open inside your house to let what little natural light is available in. Be sure to spend time near windows during the day. If possible, try to avoid spending several hours a day cooped up in a dark windowless space. To make getting up on cold winter mornings more pleasant, consider purchasing a dawn simulator or a light box. A dawn simulator is like an alarm clock that gradually wakes you up with light the way a sunrise would. A light box is a way to help your body adjust to the lack of light. Most people with SAD are recommended to sit by a light box for 30 minutes each morning.
3. Don’t skip out on socializing
Depression thrives in isolation. It might make you not want to see anybody or even leave your house, but don’t believe the lies depression tells you. Your friends and family will want to see you so don’t hesitate to reach out to them. Socializing helps boost feelings of happiness and connectivity which is vital to a healthy mental state. Don’t skip out on too many invitations to social events this winter; you’ll feel better for it.
4. Keep Moving
Much like socializing, depression will make you not want to do any physical activities. Yet, exercise is one of the best ways to stay mentally healthy. Exercise boosts certain neurotransmitters that are responsible for helping you feel energized and happy. It might be quite tempting to stay on the couch all day as winter rages on, but you’ll feel better if you are able to get in some physical activity every day. If the winter weather isn’t too bad, take a short walk around your neighborhood so you can get exercise in while spending some time in natural light.
Keeping a journal is one of the best ways to reflect on your feelings. By writing down your experience on a regular basis, you’ll start to notice what might be triggering your feelings of depression. Maybe relationship troubles or work problems are contributing to your depression and you didn’t even realize it. If you are in therapy or are looking to start therapy, a journal is a good tool to bring so you and your therapist have a better understanding of what is going on in your life.
6. Plan a trip
Studies show that people feel happiest when they have something to look forward to, especially when it comes to planning a vacation. Giving yourself something fun to plan is a great way to make it through the winter months. Plus if you can get away to a sunny location, it will help your seasonal affective disorder even more. If you don’t have the funds to go away right now, creating a vacation wish-list still might give you something exciting to look forward to even if it is down the line.
7. Reach out for help
Seasonal depression or seasonal affective disorder is far more than just “the winter blues.” Depression isn’t something that will just go away on its own. If you are concerned that you or someone you care about might be experiencing seasonal depression, it is important to seek help from a qualified mental health professional. Our Resource Specialist can help you find expert mental health resources to recover in your community. Contact us now for more information on this free service to our users.
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2 thoughts on “7 Ways to Stay Well in the Face of Seasonal Depression”
I am a 58 year old male with sleeping issues. I have lost one job due to many nights “staring at the ceiling”. My wife falls asleep almost any ware. I use to fall asleep easily but that left me back in 2006.
I don’t do anything in bed except look at the clock about every 45 minutes. We do not have a TV in our room and it is very dark and quite.
I wash up, brush my teath, floss and put on night cloths. I’m ready for sleep but my mind is racing.
Any ideas how I might get sleep?
Thank you for reaching out to me. Trust me, I understand your difficulty with getting good sleep. I have a few suggestions listed below but if you still find you can’t get to sleep on a regular basis consider seeing a doctor or a sleep specialist.
_Try doing a smoothing activity 30 min or so before bed like reading or meditating somewhere that is quiet and doesn’t have bright lights on
_Cut back on food or beverages that have caffeine or alcohol as both substance can affect your sleep
_If your to do lists or tomorrow’s plans are worrying you, try writing everything that is bothering you on a list and make a plan on when you will address those issue. E.g. “I will pay the utility bill next Wednesday afternoon and I will not worry about it until that day has come.”
_Constantly checking the clock may be adding to our restless feeling. Try turning it away and not thinking about the time you are missing while not sleeping. This may sound counter-intuitive but what often works for me is telling myself not to care about how much or how little I sleep. You have to surrender to whatever will be will be. This works more often than not.
_Over time your brain begins to build up an association between a location and an emotion. Since you’ve been struggling to sleep for so long, you might have come to associate your main sleeping area with worry and insomnia without even noticing it. Try sleeping somewhere different like a guest bed or couch as changing up your sleeping environment might help break those associations.
_There are a few over the counter supplements like melatonin that can help but talk to your doctor before trying anything new.
_For more tips, you can check out my post on getting good sleep as an insomniac http://www.rtor.org/2016/01/05/guide-to-sleeping-better/
There are also mental health or phsyical conditions that can affect your sleep. If you want individualized help, you can contact our Resource Specialist free of charge at http://www.rtor.org/resource-specialist/
I hope that helps and I wish you the best.