As the days grow shorter and colder, we may find ourselves a bit down. But for some people, the winter months can bring on debilitating sadness, lethargy and loneliness.
Approximately 10 million adults in the United States are affected by seasonal affective disorder (SAD), a type of depression that is related to changes in seasons. Sadness, moodiness and a lack of energy are common symptoms of SAD that increase in the fall and continue into the winter months. Here are a few coping strategies for people diagnosed with SAD or for anyone experiencing the “winter blues.”
Because seasonal affective disorder may be triggered by a lack of sunlight, light therapy is often used as a treatment option. This type of therapy involves exposure to artificial light that mimics natural outdoor light. Sitting in front of a light box or wearing a light visor for about 30 to 60 minutes each morning can help relieve symptoms. If artificial light therapy is not available, open your blinds or curtains during the day to let as much natural light in as possible or spend some time outdoors.
Exercise has been shown to alleviate depression, and it also can help mitigate symptoms of SAD. If possible, exercise outside to take advantage of what sunlight there is. Besides providing a mood boost, staying physically active can help offset the weight gain that is common with seasonal affective disorder.
Reach Out to Others
Consider scheduling activities with friends throughout the week as a way to keep from hibernating until spring. Go out to dinner, see a movie or help host a party or charitable event. Check in with family members and encourage them to reach out to you. Opening the lines of communication and planning activities you enjoy with others can help prevent social isolation.
See a Doctor
If you feel down for several days in a row or can’t find the motivation for activities you used to enjoy, see a doctor. This is especially important if sadness is affecting your sleep patterns, appetite or commitments to work or school. Self-care is crucial for people with SAD, but when symptoms escalate, it is important to speak with a mental health professional sooner rather than later.
Seasonal affective disorder can prevent us from enjoying the winter months, but there are ways to help lessen its impact. Take advantage of available sunlight or use artificial light therapy, plan time with friends, keep active and see a doctor if symptoms become too difficult to manage.