Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD) is on the rise now that the seasons are changing. As the weather changes, people with Seasonal Affective Disorder may find themselves more depressed and unmotivated. With winter looming, here’s a list of tips from mental health experts on how to deal with Seasonal Affective Disorder as the nights get longer and the days get colder.
What Is Seasonal Affective Disorder?
Seasonal Affective Disorder is a mental health condition in which an individual’s mood, thoughts, feelings, and behaviors are influenced by changing seasons. Individuals with Seasonal Affective Disorder may feel more depressed in the fall and winter. Depending on the severity of the disorder, it can be debilitating and severely impact quality of life.
The following are helpful tips for anyone impacted by Seasonal Affective Disorder:
1. Talk to a Mental Health Professional
“Medication and therapy can help with your symptoms, even if they only last for a few months, and they can make your situation feel significantly more manageable.” – Nicole Arzt, LMFT
“If you’re on medication talk to your prescriber about increasing your dosage or adding a medication that you can take as needed.” – Alisha Powell, PhD, LCSW
“A professional can assess whether you have any dietary insufficiencies, such as low Vitamin D levels, that may be affecting your overall mood. Supplements may be recommended to regulate your energy levels, or, if necessary, a psychiatrist may prescribe antidepressant medication. If you notice a drastic and annually recurring change in your mental or emotional health, do not ignore it. Get evaluated by a medical professional and explore medication options.” – Logan Jones, PsyD
2. Get a Light Box
“You can order a special light box online that will mimic natural outdoor light that is typically lacking in the winter months. If you sit in front of this light within the first hour of waking up each day, this exposure can trigger particular neurotransmitters to be released which will help elevate mood for the rest of the day.” – Dr. Lindsay Israel
3. Use Employee Assistance Programs (EAPs)
“Employers can offer their work-teams empathy and support by recognizing that SAD is real. This year, due to the isolation of working remotely, employees suffering from depression may experience deeper symptoms. Some may experience SAD for the first time as they’re no longer getting out of the house for lunch with friends during the workday.
“If the firm offers an EAP program, use existing resources to educate your managers about SAD, offer employees resources for counseling to get through the tough days, and provide ideas and recommendations for employees self care — such as to get some sunshine or go for a hike.” – Laura Handrick, HR Specialist
4. Have a Game Plan
“Seasonal Affective Disorder can be draining and it’s important that you create a sustainable self care plan to help you get through the rough times. Think about joining a support group, take a fun course or start a hobby. Many people find it helpful to invest in a sun lamp and bright lighting so that they feel like they are experiencing more daylight.” – Alisha Powell, PhD, LCSW
5. Reach Out to Loved Ones
“As with most mood disorders, it is good to let loved ones know about needing extra support. It is not always easy to discuss mental health issues but letting loved ones know about it can help in providing the individual with understanding, patience, and support, which will be needed.” – Dr. Cheryl Andaya
6. Get Outside Whenever Possible
“I encourage my clients to get natural sources of light as often as possible. Eat your meals outside, take walks, even just reading a book outside can make a tremendous difference in your mental health.” – Nicole Arzt, LMFT
7. Buy a Warmer Jacket
“We know that increasing physical activity, especially physical activity outside, can push back against the power of SAD. We also know that building up the motivation to go outside on a beautiful summer day can be challenging for some. In the winter, excuses build because it’s colder, wetter, and an overall less appealing experience.
“People who are dedicated to managing their SAD should invest in a jacket or coat that is warmer and waterproof to improve the comfort when outside.. This practical measure can encourage outside activity without weather being a factor.” – Eric Patterson, LPC
8. Change Up Your Morning Routine
“SAD often hits the hardest in the mornings, when people first wake up and can’t seem to get out of bed. Symptoms are only exacerbated by early morning inactivity or stagnation. If your morning routine involves laying in bed, staring at the ceiling, hitting the snooze button multiple times, or mindlessly scrolling social media, you may be feeding the negative energy surrounding your condition.
“Try opening the blinds or curtains as soon as you get up. This influx of natural light is an instant sign to your body that your day has started. Melatonin is a hormone naturally produced by the body that regulates our sleep. Darkness triggers the body to produce more melatonin, which is why the darker winter months tend to leave us feeling more tired and sluggish. This feeling is magnified for those living with SAD, and exposing yourself to sunlight first thing in the moment is a great way to trick the body into elevated energy levels.“ – Logan Jones PsyD
“Exercise is an important treatment for any mood disturbance, especially if you do it consistently. Even with seasonal affective disorder, you’ll find the same mood boosting benefits that exercise can provide in other forms of depression. Outdoor exercise is especially beneficial, if you’re able to bundle up and get active. If the weather is a problem for your usual outdoor run or hike, try snowshoeing or skiing.” – Dr. Patricia Celan
10. Establish a Routine & Stick to it
“In the fall and winter months, it can become easy to neglect our normal routines. It’s cold outside, and venturing out of the house for social events seems to demand too much energy. For individuals living with Seasonal Affective Disorder, however, it’s critical to maintain as much normality in your routine as possible. Holding fast to the things you love like good friends and fun hobbies keeps you anchored to positive energy, which counteracts the symptoms of SAD.
“If you cannot muster the energy to be a social butterfly, don’t worry. Simply implement some regimented activities you can do in your own time from the comfort of your own home. Be it learning a new recipe or reading a good book, punctuating your day with activities you look forward to helps combat depressive episodes.” – Logan Jones, PsyD
“Find ways to brighten your home, perhaps with the aid of an interior designer (if you can afford one). This could include installing a skylight (a way to also conserve energy);adding lighting to darker rooms in your home; and adding bright colors, by painting walls, adding bright, colorful paintings to walls; and making sure decor is bright, and cheerful. During the holidays make sure to “deck the halls.” Make sure your tree contains lots of bright lights and sparkling decorations. That goes for your home, in general—-indoors and out.” – Bruce L. Thiessen, PhD
12. Avoid Negative Thoughts
“The first step in avoiding this is to notice when it’s happening in the first place – the most effective way to do this is to practice mindfulness, and mindfulness meditation. If you’re new to mindfulness I recommend starting with a smartphone app – there are numerous good ones, but my top recommendations for scientific validity and meditation quality are Headspace and 10% Happier.
“The second step is to know what you’re being mindful for: unhelpful thinking styles. Unhelpful thoughts are thoughts that hurt you emotionally, whether or not they’re ‘right’ or ‘wrong,’ and take regular-intensity emotions and boost them into highly disruptive or unpleasant emotions. Examples of these lines of thinking are thinking in black and white, intentionally disregarding the importance of positive things in your life, and jumping to (negative) conclusions.” – Aaron Weiner, PhD
13. Take up Meditation and Mindfulness Practices
“Mindfulness practice is a wonderful way to stay on top of mood fluctuation. Meditation allows us to remain tuned in to the present moment, which helps us focus on the good and improve general outlook on life.. I’m a big advocate for meditation as a regular part of a healthy wellness routine, but if you find yourself struggling with seasonal depression, definitely consider picking it up as the weather begins to shift.” – Logan Jones, PsyD
How to Find a Therapist for Season Affective Disorder
To find a therapist to help you address SAD, you could explore options from an online directory, ask someone you know and trust if they have any recommendations, or seek a referral from a nearby doctor’s office. Therapist fees will vary, with session rates often between $50 and $150 without insurance. With insurance coverage, the out-of-pocket costs per session could be very low.
Dealing With Seasonal Affective Disorder Infographics