A version of this article was originally posted in the IDONTMIND Journal.
When the weather gets gray and gloomy, your mood may start to mirror what’s happening outside. The lack of sunny, warm days can impact your brain more than you realize, and there’s a very real mental health condition associated with it.
For most mental health conditions, the timing for symptoms can be relatively unpredictable. But for some people, seasonal depression or Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD) kicks in like clockwork. SAD is a type of depression, but it’s tied to a season, rather than affecting you all year round. You’re likely to feel it most in winter because of the changes in daylight, which can send your hormones and biological clock into a whirlwind. But it’s important to note that others can experience SAD during a different part of the year, such as the summer.
SAD usually occurs between October through February and might include any of these symptoms:
- Feeling down for most of the day, almost every day
- Losing interest in things you used to find enjoyable
- Feeling low in energy or overwhelmingly tired
- Difficulty focusing or concentrating
- Feeling hopeless or worthless
- Changes in sleeping patterns – usually sleeping too much
- Changes in eating patterns – usually wanting to eat more
Now, what do you do about it? Here are strategies you can use to fight seasonal depression and help your mental health throughout the winter season.
Stick to a routine
When you’re feeling weighed down with seasonal depression, you may just want to stay in bed and not leave the house. Make commitments, no matter how small they may be, and stick to a routine. Creating those positive habits in your daily life can make the tougher days seem more manageable. Just try and accomplish one thing at a time.
Go outside when you can
Yes, this might be tough when the winter weather isn’t the best, but finding a few moments to breathe some fresh air and soak in some natural light can be key to getting your brain’s chemicals back to normal. If your work schedule has you both leaving and coming home from work in the dark, try and make a conscious effort to bundle up and spend part of your lunch break outside when you can.
Get your body moving
Physical activity is a proven way to better mental health. The type of movement can look different depending on how you’re feeling each day, but even some simple stretches can increase your mood and energy and keep your immune system in check. The first step is always going to feel the hardest, but anything that gets your blood moving is going to help relieve that SAD.
Bring in some light
Your mood may feel a little different during the winter months because you aren’t getting as much exposure to light. When you can’t brave the elements, use a lamp that simulates the same type of sun rays that you’d get in summer. This is known as “light therapy,” and for some people, it can essentially jumpstart your biological clock. Research shows that 60 – 80% of people experiencing SAD benefit from using a light therapy lamp, after only two to four days. You can find inexpensive, effective light therapy lamps in all shapes and sizes – whatever you need to work it into your life.
Talk to your doctor
If you continue to feel down for multiple weeks during the winter, check in with your doctor. Sometimes, SAD is just accepted as a winter norm, but it doesn’t have to be. Your doctor can help you figure out options if none of the above suggestions are making a huge impact. If you know that this is a pattern every winter, your doctor can help you figure out a proactive plan to help you feel great this winter and every winter to come.