Health Education

9 Ways to Beat Seasonal Affective Disorder

By | February 4, 2016

It’s that time of year again: the days are short, cloudy, dark, and cold. It’s more than enough to make anyone a little melancholy. But, for some of us, these seasonal changes in mood can be more than just a case of cabin fever.

For many of us, the long winter months sink our spirits — at least 10 to 20 percent of the population develops some form of the winter blues each year, according to the Cleveland Clinic. However, about five percent of the population suffers from something more serious, according to FamilyDoctor.org.

Known as SAD, Seasonal Affective Disorder is a diagnosable depression that usually sets in during the wintertime, the period when days are short, weather is cold, and the sun is blocked by clouds. Common symptoms include fatigue, mental haziness, a loss of interest in social activities, and an increased appetite — the very habits that tend to exacerbate the illness.

SAD can sometimes be quite serious, but there are many proven ways to stave off the less intense iterations of this annual melancholy. If you feel inescapable sadness or identify with these symptoms, contact a mental health professional. Here are 9 ways to beat Seasonal Affective Disorder.

1. Take Some Vitamin D

A snowly railway
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As Kris Carr notes, a lack of Vitamin D is strongly linked to depression — but our bodies only create it when we’re exposed to sunshine, which is difficult on cloudy winter days spent indoors. It’s easy to get tested for a deficiency, which can then be treated by taking regular Vitamin D supplements.

2. Work Out

A woman walking in the snow
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While it can be difficult to motivate yourself to exercise when depressed, it’s one of the best ways to get your mind in a better place. Physical activity, especially aerobic exercise, releases endorphins (feel-good brain chemicals), eases anxiety, and helps regulate mood. According to recent research from the NIH, exercise can be as effective at fighting depression as medication or therapy.

3. Eat Better Foods

A woman chopping carrots
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It’s tempting to eat unhealthy or sugary meals and snacks when holed up during the winter, but such foods are counterproductive for your mental well-being. Fatty and sugary foods hamper our ability to deal with stress, negatively affecting our mood and metabolism, according to the Huffington Post. In fact, scientists published in Depression and Anxiety have found a strong link between high sugar intake and depression. Stick to fiber and protein-filled food instead.

4. Get Outside and Do Things You Enjoy

A couple running in the snow
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The best antidote to inactivity is positive engagement. Get outside, spend time with friends or family, volunteer, go to the movies — any activity at all other than sitting on the couch. Researchers have found that just five minutes spent outside is enough to improve feelings of general wellbeing, according to Science Daily.

5. Shine a Light on It

A woman on a desk with a UV light
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Research has found that light therapy, which involves sitting in front of extra-bright lamps during the dark season, may help as many as 50% of people with SAD, according to Consumer Research. These lamps are available online and at many drugstores, and when combined with other measures, can be incredibly effective at fighting depressive symptoms.

6. Practice Some Yoga

People performing yoga poses
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Relaxation methods such as yoga have been found to be very successful in relieving depression and anxiety by controlling your stress response, as Harvard University reports. It’s also a great way to remain active and social.

7. Get Good Sleep

Sticking to a regular sleep routine can have a significant impact on mood and activity levels. Plus, it helps to ensure that your daily routine remains consistent.

8. Get Out of Town

If a trip is possible, a quick weekend excursion away from home is great way to lift your spirits. Dr. Kelly Rohan, speaking with the Huffington Post, says that, “Across the board, SAD patients will tell you they feel better [after vacation].” Sunny places are ideal, but even just getting out of town can help.

9. Be Patient

Many SAD patients get frustrated that their mood doesn’t improve rapidly — easing depression takes time, even when patients take all the proper steps. Try to stay positive and go easy on yourself. Although recovery can be gradual, symptoms will ease.

While many people suffer from winter blues, SAD is a diagnosable illness. If you think that you may be affected by SAD, you should seek treatment from a professional — while symptoms will ease in the springtime, no patient should have to suffer for nearly half of the year.

While mental healthcare can be quite expensive, SingleCare presents a viable option for those without insurance or who need more coverage. Members are able to save an average 48% on mental health treatment.

(Main image credit: Chalabala/Thinkstock)