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How to Handle Seasonal Depression

Angela Paoli
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A Sad Man is Looking Blankly Out of a Window in Winter.
As the days grow shorter and the nights grow longer, seasonal depression may start to set in.

Symptoms of seasonal depression—also known as seasonal affective disorder (SAD)— typically come and go as the seasons change. But this cyclical pattern luckily makes it easier for in-person and online therapists to identify.

It occurs in the September through December months when there's less daylight in the Northern Hemisphere. Let's review SAD and examine the proper techniques therapists like myself teach patients to use to cope with depression triggers.

» Learn more about the difference between SAD and depression.

What Is Seasonal Depression?

SAD is thought to be caused partly by a decrease in sunlight exposure, which can disrupt the body's natural circadian rhythm (sleep cycle) and cause detrimental changes in mood and behavior. The symptoms of SAD are similar to those of major depressive disorder.

Common symptoms include:

  • Persistent sadness, hopelessness, or an anxiety disorder
  • Loss of interest in activities once enjoyed
  • Changes in appetite and sleep patterns
  • Fatigue and low energy
  • Difficulty concentrating
  • Social withdrawal

10 Ways to Alleviate Seasonal Depression

1. Get Regular Exposure to Sunlight

Soaking up some sunshine boosts the production of serotonin, a mood-enhancing neurotransmitter. It's like giving your body and mind a dose of happiness and health.

It also helps regulate your body's natural clock, keeping your mood bright and reducing the risk of depression. So, head outdoors, even if it's for twenty minutes during your lunch break, embrace the sun's rays, and let your body and mind bask in its goodness.

2. See a Medical Professional or Therapist

If you experience persistent or distressing changes in mood, energy levels, or sleep patterns, you should immediately consult a healthcare professional or therapist.

This is particularly advisable when your symptoms significantly interfere with daily functioning, relationships, or overall quality of life. Online therapy services for depression, like BetterHelp, are also a convenient option for support in this.

3. Take Vitamin D Supplements

Vitamin D is a crucial nutrient for mood regulation. Individuals with seasonal depression frequently have low vitamin D levels, so taking a supplement can aid in improving their symptoms.

A typical vitamin D dosage is 1,000-2,000 IU (international unit) per day and is easily obtainable locally or through online psychiatry services.

4. Exercise Regularly

Regular exercise is a fantastic way to boost mood and energy levels, both of which are often low in individuals with seasonal depression.

Exercise helps improve your mood by promoting the release of endorphins and is one of the most beneficial things you can do for your body and mind.

5. Maintain Social Connections

I find that social isolation often worsens my patients' depression, so it's essential to maintain connections with friends and family. Try to see your loved ones regularly, even if you don't feel up to it.

You can also join clubs or groups that align with your interests. If social connection is still difficult, try looking into an online therapy website like Cerebral to start chatting with someone.

» Find out more about how online therapy works.

6. Limit Caffeine and Alcohol Consumption

Too much caffeine and alcohol can be like party crashers for your body and mind. They can disrupt your sleep, leaving you feeling groggy. They can also increase your anxiety, making you feel jittery and on edge by raising your blood pressure.

Show caffeine and alcohol the door and say hello to better sleep, reduced anxiety, and a healthier body. Online therapy services for anxiety can help you get extra assistance in this area.

7. Practice Mindfulness and Relaxation Techniques

Stress and anxiety can exacerbate seasonal depression. So, mindfulness and relaxation techniques, such as meditation and deep breathing, can help reduce them.

Mindfulness involves focusing on the present moment without judgment. On the other hand, relaxation techniques involve deep breathing exercises and other methods to relax your body and mind.

8. Eat a Nutritionally Balanced Diet

Nourishing your body with a balanced diet is like giving it a superpower boost. It provides all the essential nutrients your body needs to function at its best.

It also positively impacts your mental well-being, improving mood, reducing stress, and boosting cognitive function. A balanced diet can help you maintain a healthy weight, which has both physical and psychological benefits.

9. Limit Screen Time and Get Enough Sleep

Don't spend too much time using electronics that emit unnatural bright light since this can further disrupt your sleep cycle. This disruption is also believed to be a significant contributor to SAD.

Sleep is like a supercharger for your body and mind—but one in three US adults don't get the recommended amount of uninterrupted sleep. Enough sleep means your body can repair itself and gear up for the day ahead, protecting you from health issues like obesity, heart disease, and diabetes.

10. Get Light Therapy

Light therapy involves using special lamps that emit bright light. This light mimics the effects of sunlight, which can aid in regulating the body's natural circadian rhythm and enhancing mood.

Light therapy lamps are typically used for 30-60 minutes each day and are most effective in the morning.

Changing with the Seasons

Establishing a routine is essential when dealing with seasonal depression, even if working with a therapist. Humans generally thrive on routine, finding comfort in predictability. It's also important to recognize that what works for one person may not work for another, emphasizing the need to identify your personalized coping mechanisms.

Some may find it challenging to prevent seasonal depression, and acceptance is a part of the process. Acknowledging that it might happen despite preventive efforts, but having coping tools in place can make the winters more manageable.

» Learn more about the signs you need to see a therapist.

Angela Paoli
Angela Paoli writes for Top10.com and is currently works as a tele-health Therapist Associate providing evidence-based treatments to diverse individuals who are experiencing anxiety, depression, PTSD, bipolar, insomnia, ADHD, etc. She holds a Master’s degree in Social Work and has over a decade of experience working as a licensed social worker and online therapist. She specializes in providing mental health services to US military members and their families.

The author of this article has been paid by Natural Intelligence to write this article. Neither the author nor Natural Intelligence provide medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. If you think you may have a medical emergency, call your doctor or your local emergency number immediately.