How To Manage Seasonal Affective Disorder When Winter Settles In, According To Experts
I know a lot of people who cling to the idea of summer like a security blanket, who shudder at the mere thought of the sun setting before 6 p.m. But there’s a big difference between muddling through winter blues and figuring out how to manage seasonal affective disorder. SAD is a very real, very serious mood disorder that annually overlaps with the seemingly happiest time of year, and it’s that much harder to deal with when everyone else in the world seems to feel so merry and bright through the holiday season.
While those who suffer from SAD should seek professional help and take the proper medication when necessary to counteract feelings of depression, there are also small ways to cultivate strategies that help you feel your best despite the struggle. The more you know about the disorder, the better equipped you'll be to combat symptoms and offer helpful tips to loved ones who may be suffering from seasonal depression.
One of the most important things to remember when dealing with SAD is that, again, it's a medical condition that affects someone both mentally and physically. In addition to talking to a therapist and/or taking doctor-prescribed medications, consider some of these little ways to help you cope with seasonal affective disorder, because you deserve to feel your best all year round.
1. Invest In A SAD Lamp
According to WebMD, even though experts aren't 100 percent positive about what exactly causes SAD, a main factor could be the dramatic lack of sunlight in winter compared to warmer months.
Millennial life coach Jess Hopkins tells Elite Daily that heliotherapy, which involves "using a lamp designed specifically to replicate some of the beneficial effects of natural sunlight," can lift the spirits of those who struggle with SAD.
For example, the HappyLight Touch made by Verilux, featured above, is customizable with adjustable light intensity settings for effective light therapy. It's also portable, so you can take and use on the go as needed.
2. Pay Attention To Your Eating Habits
I've said it over and over again, but the truth remains: You are what you eat.
We are a product of our environment, and of the foods we put into our bodies. Obviously it's super comforting to snack on sugary carbs and heavier foods, but they literally and figuratively weigh us down.
Health expert and author of The Happiness Diet Rachel Kelly tells Elite Daily that "happy" foods — like leafy greens, lean proteins, dashes of cinnamon, and pieces of dark chocolate — "boost your supplies of the feel-good hormone serotonin." In other words, spare a cookie or two and try nibbling on a hearty salad when the urge to anxiously eat your feelings takes over.
3. Take An Interest In Plants
Kelly tells Elite Daily that soil actually contains friendly bacteria that have "the same effect on the brain as taking antidepressants." Of course, this absolutely does not mean you should substitute taking care of a ficus for taking the meds your doctor prescribed you, but it can definitely enhance the benefits overall.
Skeptical? There's actually a ton of research backing up Kelly's claim. Psychology Today reports, for example, that a study analyzing the positive impact of nature on human condition shows that even just bringing nature into your home can "lower blood pressure, raise productivity," and "improve well-being."
4. Take A Vitamin D Supplement
A lack of sunlight is one of the main causes of SAD, and when the human body isn't exposed to this natural source of vitamin D, it may need a supplement to compensate.
Behavioral scientist Clarissa Silva tells Elite Daily that aside from its many physical health benefits, vitamin D can also "reduce some depressive symptoms," so it's important to supplement using either a pill, foods rich in vitamin D, light therapy, or spending as much time outdoors as possible whenever the sun peeks through those winter clouds.
5. Take A Tech Break Before Bed
We're all aware by now that fiddling with our phones right before we fall asleep can negatively affect our sleep cycles. But according to founder of GraceSpace.co Grace Smith, this is particularly crucial because our brains are in a deep meditation state about 20 minutes before we fall asleep, as well as right after we wake up which, she explains, is a "direct access point to the subconscious mind."
In order to keep your thoughts light and stress-free, Smith tells Elite Daily that anyone who suffers from SAD should go the old-fashioned route and swap their cell phones for an alarm clock instead.
"Think about all the things you love about your life, all of the things you're grateful for, relive your happiest memories as you drift off to sleep. When you wake up, do the same," she says. "Protect those 20 minutes before sleep and upon first waking by staying away from all technology and marinating yourself in gratitude."
6. Record Your Feelings On Paper
I may be a tiny bit biased considering my profession, but my motto has always been this: "When in doubt, write it out."
Chris Kernes, licensed marriage and family therapist and co-founder of LARKR on-demand video therapy, tells Elite Daily that one of the simplest things you can do to turn your mood around is to journal for a minimum of 30 seconds (and who doesn't have 30 seconds to spare?) and jot down anything you might be feeling.
What's great about journaling is, even if you only have a few minutes during your lunch break or before class to scribble down a few sentences, putting anxious thoughts to paper can be incredibly therapeutic. It's a physical way to take something so emotional inside your brain, and let it all out into the world.
7. Take A Hot Yoga Class
Endorphins make you happy, remember? Well, according to Donna Rubin, co-founder of bodē nyc, getting super sweaty in a yoga studio can also put you in a fabulous mood.
"Doing yoga, especially in heat, helps with SAD disorder because it flushes your brain with oxygenated blood and stimulates the release of hormones, which put you in a better mood," Rubin tells Elite Daily.
Because the studio can get as hot as 105 degrees, the body warms up through the movements and room temps, therefore stimulating the release of that feel-good hormone. Hey, it's worth a shot, right?