As the days get shorter and darker, some people deal with Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD). SAD is a form of major depression that’s impacted by the seasons—typically fall and winter. Up to 10% of the population struggles with SAD.
People with SAD have the normal symptoms of depression, including fatigue, greater need for sleep, loss of interest in activities once enjoyed, intense sadness, appetite changes, and more. However, a person is only diagnosed with SAD if they have a full remission when the seasons change.
Because SAD is partially caused by lack of sunlight, light therapy can help people cope. It may sound silly to sit in front of an artificial light to cure your depression—and it’s not an all-out “cure”—but it can help alleviate symptoms. This isn’t your average lamp; in order for it to be effective, it has to generate 10,000 lux, which is 100 times stronger than a normal lightbulb. It also has to emit white or blue, not yellow, light.
Lack of sunlight means less vitamin D, which is why it’s also important to check up on your vitamin D intake. You might take supplements, or you might add more of it to your diet through foods like eggs, fish, chia seeds—and certain foods fortified with vitamin D like orange juice, soy milk, and some cereals.
Even though the days are shorter, it’s important to try to get outside during the day. Simply stepping outside for a few minutes won’t be wasted time. The fresh air and sunlight are things your body and mind might feel deprived of in the winter, which could contribute to symptoms of SAD.
Those are some physical ways to manage symptoms, but what about coping mentally? Therapy is a great way to help you build healthy coping skills. Your therapist can work with your energy levels and mood to figure out what might work best.
Depression takes a lot out of you and often makes it hard to do things you once enjoyed. That makes coping complicated; it’s not always easy to just get out and exercise, for instance. A small thing you can do is reach out to one person who you know supports you. Connection is important for all of us, even if we’re depressed and feel like isolating.
It’s still early in this season—a good time to reach out to a supportive person in your life and let them know to check in on you throughout the fall and winter. You might let them know what helps: do you want someone to listen to you? Do you want to have someone else talk and just listen? Would you be more likely to get outside if you can go for a walk with a friend?
These are all things you can figure out by journaling, talking to your therapist, and trying out different methods. Try asking yourself specific questions like those mentioned above and writing down the answers. Then you can be clear with the people in your life about how they might support you. Practice asking for help.
This can be a hard season even for people who don’t have SAD, so if you have seasonal depression, know that you are doing the best you can. Take good care of yourself, and remember that the seasons will pass.
That said, if your seasonal depression feels unmanageable, there is hope. Amatus Recovery Centers across the country offer high-quality treatment for mental health disorders and addiction. Our staff will help you build a life in recovery. Call an admissions specialist at 410-593-0005.