If you struggle with specialized depression during these cold, dark winter months, you're not alone. Research shows that anywhere from 0.5-3% of the general population struggles with seasonal affective disorder (SAD), although it can be as high as 10-20% of people with major depression.
SAD is a specific mental health condition associated with the changing patterns of the winter season. It's a type of depression, and the symptoms usually start to emerge during fall and winter, when there is less sunlight.
While many people experience some variant of the winter blues, SAD can be a serious condition that affects your daily functioning and overall well-being. Common SAD symptoms include:
feeling a persistent sense of sadness or despair.
losing interest in usual hobbies, interests, or relationships.
fatigue and problems with sleep.
changes in appetite (often associated with overeating carbohydrates).
feeling excess guilt or a sense of worthlessness.
difficulty with concentration or decision-making.
recurrent thoughts of death or suicide.
Let's get into what you can do if you're struggling.
Try Light Therapy
Light therapy, also known as phototherapy, refers to engaging with an artificial bright light at different points throughout the day. This light aims to mimic natural outdoor lighting, which can trigger pleasant mood hormones in the brain.
Many people use this lightbox for about thirty minutes to one hour when they first wake up. Some will use it when getting ready for the day or when winding down for sleep at night.
Many professionals recommend light therapy as one of the initial treatments for SAD. But before you go out and purchase a lightbox, consult with a doctor or therapist. There are many options available, and you want to make sure that you buy a high-quality product that is both useful and safe.
Discuss Medication With Your Doctor or Psychiatrist
Antidepressants can help balance your brain's neurochemistry, which can support mood stabilization. Common antidepressants include medications like Zoloft, Celexa, Prozac, and Lexapro.
Some people take antidepressants only in the winter. Others continue taking their medication throughout the year. While antidepressants are not addictive, they can have side effects. You can evaluate the pros and cons of a medication approach with your healthcare provider.
Get Outside Often
Even if the weather is unpleasant, try to make a conscious effort to expose yourself to fresh air and sunshine. Ideally, you want to spend time outdoors when it's as light as possible- which usually falls between 12:00-3:00 pm.
In milder climates, you should still be able to take walks or exercise outdoors. In harsher climates, you may need to get creative. Even if it's just sitting on the porch with a cup of coffee, this small action can make a meaningful difference in enhancing your mood.
At the very least, keep your blinds open when indoors. Exposing yourself to light as often as possible can help stimulate your mood.
Stick To a Consistent Routine
Structure is key when it comes to managing your mental health. Often, when people feel depressed or anxious, they tend to neglect their basic responsibilities. They may sleep erratically, eat sporadically, and forgo exercise altogether.
A routine helps you stay accountable. It gives you a predictable flow for each day, and it offers a sense of personal empowerment as you complete each task.
Commit to following a predictable schedule by:
waking up around the same time each morning.
eating meals at consistent times each day.
attending all appointments as needed.
going to sleep at the same time each night.
If you deviate one day, that's normal. Just try to get back on track as soon as you can. Consistency can be a fundamental part of self-care, and you owe it to yourself to prioritize your mental well-being.
Depression can be a serious condition that can progressively worsen if you don't treat it. Unfortunately, many people assume they need to manage their symptoms on their own.
Therapy can help you process your thoughts and emotions in a healthier, adaptive way. You will also learn appropriate coping skills for managing distressing symptoms. Subsequently, therapy offers a safe, nonjudgmental space for you to discuss whatever is on your mind.
Final Thoughts on Treatment for Seasonal Affective Disorder
The winter season can be difficult for everyone. This year, in particular, has created numerous challenges. You're not alone if you're struggling and feeling upset right now.
At The Resurface Group, we are here for you and your loved ones. We understand the nuances of mental health, and we can help you feel better. Contact us today to learn more about our unique approach.