When days get shorter, and the weather gets colder in the fall and winter, you might notice a change in your mood, too. Seasonal depression, also known as seasonal affective disorder (SAD), refers to the depression that correlates with the change of seasons. Seasonal depression can bring symptoms such as difficulty concentrating, reduced energy, feelings of hopelessness, and weight gain.
If you’re living with seasonal depression, you’re not alone. Mental Health America reports that about 5 percent of the U.S. population experiences seasonal depression each year. Seasonal depression most commonly starts between 20 and 30 years old, but it’s possible to encounter it at a younger age. Where you live directly affects your risk for seasonal depression, too. The further you are from the equator, the cooler your climate – and the greater your risk for developing seasonal depression.
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As the days get shorter and winter weather sets in, these tips can help you to manage seasonal depression better:
Talk with a Mental Health Professional
A mental health professional can diagnose you with SAD or help determine if you might be dealing with another type of depression. That professional can help you better understand SAD and connect you with resources to help you through the season. In some cases, prescription medication may be helpful, and a mental health professional can guide you through that process.
Use Light Therapy
Light therapy, also called phototherapy, may help regulate your circadian rhythm and relieve SAD symptoms. Light therapy boxes provide bright light that replicates sunshine. You can use the boxes daily for 20 to 30 minutes to boost your mood.
The Mayo Clinic notes that it’s essential to choose a box that not only provides 10,000 lux of light but also emits minimal UV light, which can damage your eyes. When using the box, avoid looking directly into it, so it’s an ideal time to do another activity, such as reading.
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It’s natural to want to sit on the couch at home when it’s cold out, but inactivity and lack of social interaction can make your depression symptoms worse. Instead, focus on ways you can stay active and connected with others.
Consider participating in winter sports and activities since exercise can help to boost your mood. Schedule a daily or weekly walk with friends. Invite friends and family for small dinner parties and check out your community’s calendar of events for more activities.
Create a Self-Care Schedule
When you’re experiencing depression symptoms, you might be tempted to sleep in late, skip meals or eat all day, and otherwise disrupt your typical schedule. These changes will only make your symptoms worse.
Instead, create a schedule that prioritizes self-care and then stick to it. Set a daily alarm so you get up at a consistent time, even on the weekends. Waking up earlier will maximize the hours of daylight you are exposed to, which can help improve your mood.
Similarly, schedule meals and eat nutritious foods. Be sure also to schedule other crucial self-care activities you might be tempted to skip, including exercise, showers, and time with friends and family. The holidays can naturally disrupt your schedule but be aware of this and stick to your routine as closely as possible.
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Seasonal depression is challenging to deal with, making winter and the holidays difficult times. While there are many changes you can make to support yourself through the depression, make sure that you’re also working with a mental health professional.
If you ever have feelings of helplessness or depression, please confide in a friend, family member, and mental health professional to have the support you need. For immediate assistance in a mental health crisis, including having thoughts of suicide, contact the National Alliance on Mental Illness at 1-800-950-NAMI or text “NAMI” to 741741.