Winter can be brutal. Short days and long nights in the Northern Hemisphere make for decreased exposure to sunlight. Absorbing fewer rays from the sun has a negative physiological effect on most people, which can lead to Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD).
The effects of SAD range from feeling a bit blue to full-blown depression. Untreated depression can lead to missing days at work, broken relationships, and even suicidal thoughts. Often, acknowledging depressive symptoms is the hardest part of breaking the cycle, because the afflicted person sees depression as a sign of weakness and is reluctant to ask for help.
A person affected by SAD doesn’t have to wait until symptoms spiral downward until they can’t get out of bed or can’t stop the dark thoughts, though. Here are a few ways to combat SAD before it takes total control of your mental state:
- Get some sunlight every day. Even sitting outside for 10 minutes during a break can help alleviate symptoms of SAD. Sunboxes, or special lights designed to mimic the sun’s rays, can be used indoors to reap the same results in about 20 minutes a day. They can be purchased online for as little as $20.
- Working out releases endorphins, which are activated when we move our bodies and make us feel happy. We can get them in the wintertime by walking on a treadmill, riding a stationary bicycle, lifting weights, or using any type of workout equipment.
- Maintain a routine. It’s easy to slip into a different, self-destructive routine during the winter months. If a person is feeling a touch of SAD, he or she may have a hard time getting out of bed in the morning. But sleeping in makes exposure to daylight even more limited, and it usually makes a person stay up later at night, thus perpetuating the unhealthy cycle. Use an alarm if necessary to keep getting up at your normal time, which will in turn help maintain your normal bedtime and standard sleep hours.
- Find a hobby or activity that is best done during the winter. Summer is fun, but also very busy. Outdoor activities like sports, gardening, and yard work easily fill up every available hour, leaving little time for depressive thoughts. Find an indoor (or outdoor, if you’re the hardy type) pastime that you enjoy to help occupy the winter hours. Quilting, playing cards, reading, indoor basketball, leather work, or crafting are all hobbies that can be viewed as small luxuries best enjoyed during the cold months, whether the sun isn’t luring us outside all waking hours.
Don’t be ashamed if you feel SAD each winter. Feeling SAD isn’t your fault, and there are things you can do to feel happy again, even during the winter. If attempts to cheer up using at-home remedies don’t significantly raise your spirits, go to a doctor and ask for help.
Primary care physicians see patients suffering from SAD on a regular basis, and often a simple, low-dose prescription of a basic antidepressant is all that’s needed to get a person safely through winter in a healthy state of mind. When the symptoms are truly caused by seasonal changes, there is often no need to see a psychiatrist and undergo talk therapy sessions.
Many patients stop using their prescription during the warm months with no ill effects. This cycle of only medicating during the months when needed is perfectly safe, normal, and healthy.