Seasonal affective disorder (SAD), or seasonal depression, is what happens when your depression begins and ends around the same time each year, usually while the seasons are changing. It affects about five % of the US population, and, like any other kind of mental health issue, can seriously disrupt your life. Also like any other kind of mental illness, if you suffer from SAD you probably also struggle to navigate intense social stigma and limited treatment options. And right about now, when fall is setting in and it’s getting harder to leave your house without a coat? Yeah, this is when SAD pops up for a lot of people.
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The most important thing to do if you find yourself suffering from depression of any kind at any time of year is to make sure you’re getting proper medical treatment. Take your medication if your doctor prescribes it, make sure you change or wean yourself off safely if your meds aren’t helping you, but most of all, responsible, professional medical supervision and intervention is key.
But meanwhile, while you’re looking for a new therapist, waiting for your medication to take effect, or struggling with your health insurance provider, there are steps you can take to try and soothe your symptoms. Nothing works for everyone and there are no quick fixes, but if you’re having problems it’s worth trying. Check out these tips, and see what works for you!
[bctt tweet=”There are steps you can take to soothe your SAD symptoms” username=”wearethetempest”]
Whether it’s in the form of aromatherapy, tea, or oil, peppermint can help boost your mood naturally, especially when it comes to anxiety. Brew yourself a minty cup the next time your stomach is tied in knots, and you get the added benefit of a healthy digestive system.
2. Let there be light!
A lot of the reason why the fall and winter months can be hard is the lack of natural sunlight. You’re missing out on vitamin D, and you brain isn’t getting those messages from the sun that tell it to be awake and functional. Many doctors prescribe special lamps that simulate natural sunlight to help their SAD patients, and there are also special alarm clocks you can buy that light up your room in the morning like a natural sunrise would.
3. Take a winter vacation
Most people use up all their vacation days in the summer, but consider saving up some of that time for the fall and winter months. Many popular tourist locations will be cheaper to visit and less crowded in the winter, and depending on where you’re traveling, will still be warm. Or consider a ski resort to create some positive associations with the cold.
4. Keep your exercise routine going
Sure, jogging and swimming and doing physical activities is easy and fun when it’s summer, but who wants to play touch football in the freezing rain? Studies show that having an exercise routine is an effective way combat mood disorders like SAD, and it’s possible that being less physical is a part of why your mood takes a nosedive. Sign up for a month-by-month gym membership, try some yoga classes, or search for workout videos online for ways to get active that don’t involve spending all your money on thermal outdoor running gear.
5. Hang out with animals
Whether you like dogs, cats, rabbits, mice, lizards, birds, horses, whatever, spending time with furry and/or scaly friends is a guaranteed dopamine boost. Caring for an animal is a great way to increase your feelings of self worth, and the love and affection you get from a pet can remind you that the world isn’t such a terrible place. If you’re not in the position to own a pet, try volunteering at your local shelter, signing up to work for a pet sitting service, or even just asking your friends to send you cute pics of their pets.
6. Track your moods
If you only struggle with depression during certain times of the year, it’s probably pretty disorienting when it comes around. Then, on top of feeling depressed and anxious, you’re flustered because something has changed and you don’t know what to expect from your own brain. Keep track of how you feel and when so you can see what your patterns are and be ready for them.
7. Practice healthy sleep habits
Most people know that you need to get enough sleep to be feeling your best, but remember that it’s possible to get too much. Now that it’s getting darker earlier, your brain is going to want to tell you to go to sleep earlier, and stay asleep later. You can use those wake-up lights from #2 to help with this, and now is a great time to buy some better lighting for your home. Above all, remember to turn off your screens at least an hour before bed.
8. Keep your eyes on the prize
When you’re in a depressive episode, it can be impossible to keep a healthy perspective. But, if you can, remember that part of seasonal affective disorder isn’t just a reliable starting point, it’s a reliable ending point. This is where keeping track of your SAD will come in handy. Decorate the week (or month) on your calendar when your symptoms usually start to dissipate. Cross off the days so you can see for yourself how you’re progressing through your winter blues. And remember that no matter how terrible you feel right now, it won’t last forever.
9. Remember you aren’t alone
A good support system is invaluable to you while you’re struggling this time of year. Mood disorders often run in families, so you might have someone at home who can relate to what you’re going through. Now might be a good time to contact a few of your closest friends and let them know that you may not seem yourself for a few months. Hopefully they’ll offer to spend time with you vegging out on Netflix if you’re really down, or by going to those winter yoga classes with you. You can also join online support groups if you’d prefer to keep your SAD to yourself.
Fall is wonderful. You’re no longer sweating all day, there is pumpkin spiced everything, and you have an excuse to layer in festive holiday sweaters. But it’s OK if your mood starts a downward spiral this time of year. There’s nothing bad or lazy about SAD, though it is something to take seriously. Get medical care, try these tips, and remember that the National Suicide Prevention Hotline is always there for if things really get bleak. You’re not alone, and you’ll be OK!
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