Every winter, as the days get shorter and the nights get colder, many of us struggle with a familiar seasonal pattern of losing interest in our favorite activities, having less energy, and feeling depressed. Whether you call it the winter blues, winter depression, or seasonal depression, this condition can take a toll on your mental and physical health, relationships, and work.
If you suffer from seasonal affective disorder (SAD), the official name for this disorder, you're not alone. In fact, (opens in a new tab), seasonal affective disorder affects 0.5% - 3% of the general population, but is much more prevalent among those that have a separate disorder. For instance, 10% - 20% of people with major depressive disorder will experience SAD, as well as about a quarter of people with bipolar disorder.
Fortunately, there are a number of things you can do to cope with SAD symptoms. Here are 8 tips that can help:
1. Get Plenty of Sunlight
One of the most common ways to treat SAD is with bright light therapy. By the time winter officially begins, less sunlight and vitamin D is available each day. This affects us in many ways; it can throw off our circadian rhythm, reducing our energy and mood, as well as throwing off our sleep cycle. On top of that, it can increase our melatonin production, leading to fatigue and depression.
The most obvious way to combat this is by maximizing every bit of sunlight available during the winter months. That might mean taking a morning walk, sitting out on the porch with a book, or even just standing outside during your lunch break.
But there's another way to boost your light exposure and mental health: light boxes. A light box is a special device that emits very bright light, which is supposed to mimic sunlight. Whether the sunshine you get is natural or store-bought, it can help you feel more energized, reduce fatigue, and improve your mood.
2. Exercise Regularly
Regular exercise is important for mental and physical health all year round, but it can be especially beneficial for people with SAD (and other mental disorders). Exercise increases endorphin levels, which can boost your mood and reduce symptoms of depression.
It doesn’t have to be anything too strenuous; just regular, moderate exercise can make a difference. You could try taking a walk every day after work, hitting the gym in the morning, or joining a group fitness class. Whatever you choose, the important thing is to make it a regular habit.
3. Eat Healthy Foods
Believe it or not, what you eat affects your mental health just as much as it affects your physical health. Nutrient-rich foods are great at boosting energy levels and moods, while sugary, processed foods tend to do the opposite.
So as winter approaches and your energy levels start to dip, try filling up on nutrient-dense foods. Leafy greens, colorful vegetables, and lean proteins like salmon are all great choices. You should also make sure to stay hydrated and drink plenty of water throughout the day!
4. Stay Connected
During the summer months, it's much easier to get out of the house and socialize with others. But when the weather gets cold and snow makes it harder to get out of the house, social withdrawal can start to take a toll
That’s why it’s important to stay connected throughout the winter. If you notice your seasonal depression started to flare up, try making plans with a friend or family member to catch up. Or, if leaving the house isn’t an option, reach out to people online and stay in touch with a phone call or video chat.
It can also be helpful to try , where you can talk with others who understand what you’re going through. Isolation can be one of the most damaging aspects of seasonal depression, so staying connected, no matter how you go about it, is key.
5. Keep a Journal
Try keeping a journal and jotting down how you're feeling throughout the winter months. Writing things down can help you identify patterns in your moods, negative thoughts, and behaviors.
Journaling also provides an outlet for negative feelings to be expressed without judgment or criticism. By writing down your thoughts, you can work through them in a healthier way than bottling them up. It might even help you gain self-awareness and figure out what triggers temporary periods of depression.
You can also use your journal as a way to reflect on the positive. Some people like to keep a 'gratitude journal' in which they jot down a few things they're grateful for each day. Taking a couple of moments to write down something you appreciate can be a great way to boost your mood and focus on the good in your life.
6. Take A Social Media Break
Social media can be a great way to stay connected, but too much time spent scrolling through your feed can have a negative effect on your mental health. Between the news of the day, the “perfect” lives of others, and constant notifications, social media can sometimes be overwhelming and stressful.
During the winter months, it’s a good idea to take a break from social media and focus on connecting with people in real life. Try setting limits for yourself—for example, only allowing yourself to check your social media accounts once or twice a day. This will help you to avoid the mental drain that comes with looking at your phone all the time.
7. Pick Up a New Hobby
Keeping your mind active with a new hobby can go a long way in fighting SAD symptoms. Pick something you’ve been wanting to try, like painting, playing a musical instrument, or knitting. Anything that gets your creative juices flowing can help alleviate stress and make you feel more energized. Plus, giving yourself something new to learn can be a great way to keep yourself occupied during the long winter months.
Though there are many things you can do to help alleviate seasonal affective disorder, talking to a mental health professional can be one of the best ways to cope. Recovery Care offers a variety of mental health services, like individual talk therapy and group therapy, to help get you through the winter months.
If you’re feeling overwhelmed and need someone to talk to, Recovery Care can help.