The days are shorter. Pumpkin spice everything is in the air (love it or hate it!). If you get sad during the fall and winter months, you may be experiencing Seasonal Affective Disorder - appropriate acronym SAD, also commonly referred to as seasonal depression. We'll cover:
11 tips to ease Seasonal Affective Disorder
What is SAD? Do you experience it?
The causes of Seasonal Affective Disorder
In my humble opinion, most people experience some mood and mental health fluctuation during fall and winter. However, there are techniques and tools we can use in the colder seasons to stay in balance.
Do I have Seasonal Affective Disorder or Seasonal Depression?
Currently, there is no physiological measure or lab test used to establish a diagnosis of seasonal affective disorder. A correct diagnosis can only be achieved when a medical professional finds that a person meets the DSM-5 criteria through screening. The current DSM-5 terminology for SAD is a depressive disorder with seasonal patterns. Here are some common signs and symptoms of SAD:
Feeling lethargic or low energy
Sleeping too much but not feeling rested
Feeling depressed most of the day, nearly every day
Losing interest in activities you once enjoyed
Having problems with sleeping
Experiencing changes in your appetite or weight
Feeling sluggish or agitated
Having difficulty concentrating
Feeling hopeless, worthless or guilty
Having frequent thoughts of death or suicide (Please contact your doctor today if you’re having these feelings)
What Causes Seasonal Affective Disorder?
While the exact cause of Seasonal Depression is unknown, known factors contribute to SAD including:
Lack of Sunlight: Sun on the skin not only feels good, but chemically it triggers the brain to release serotonin (the happy brain juice!) which greatly affects our mood. Reduced exposure to sunlight causes drops in serotonin that may trigger depression.
Circadian Rhythm or your Biological Clock: Reduced levels of sunlight paired with shorter days in the fall and winter months disrupt your body's natural internal clock and can lead to feelings of depression.
Melatonin Levels: Seasonal changes disrupt the body’s levels of melatonin which is a critical component of your sleep patterns and moods. Your natural chemical Melanin is produced in the skin through sun exposure. Melatonin helps to lull us to sleep. Sun exposure is also an important source of vitamin D.
As you can see, these are all connected. Here are some tips to ease the effects of Seasonal Affective Disorder.
How to Ease Seasonal Affective Disorder
1. Reorganize your furniture for light and add plants Modify where you hang out in your house to be brighter and sunnier. Maybe you rearrange your bedroom so your bed is nearer to the window, switch up your office so your desk faces outside, or mix up your living room so your couch sits in the daylight. Bring easy-to-care for real plants for a mood lift into your home. Great low-light house plants are: snake plants, peace lily, fiddle leaf figs, pothos, or spider plants. Just be sure any plants you bring in are pet-safe.
2. Get outside for 20 mins a day Even on cloudy days, try to get outside for 15-20 mins. Perhaps you bundle up and go for a walk, bring a book and read in the park, or take a tea and simply look at the trees. Being outside in nature lowers blood pressure and reduces stress. Simply put, nature makes us happy!
3. Take Vitamin D Supplements Known as the “sunshine vitamin” taking a Vitamin D supplement can improve your mood within 10 minutes. A vitamin D deficiency, which often occurs with Seasonal Affective Disorder, can lead to fatigue and depression.
4. At-Home Light Therapy Light therapy boxes emit artificial light that mimics natural outdoor light and can have similar psychological and biological effects. Light therapy affects brain chemicals linked to mood and sleep so it eases symptoms, increases energy levels, and can improve your mood.
5. Talk Therapy eases SAD Talk therapy is another great tool for your mental health toolkit to ease seasonal affective disorder. The exploratory process of talk therapy allows you to understand your subtle and often unnoticed emotions so you can begin to manage them more effectively.
Your therapist can give you helpful tools to manage your mood and your mindset. Here are 100 of my top motivational quotes to inspire you. A great, virtual and affordable talk therapy option is BetterHelp.
6. Recenter yourself with meditation A great way to calm the nervous system and ease the symptoms of Seasonal Affective Disorder is meditation.
Try my 6 min guided meditation for stress and anti-anxiety. Or try one of my favorite meditations from Lauren Ostrowski on Meditation for Loving Kindness - Bonus! It helps you sleep, and you can even listen as you drift off to sleep.
7. Move your body with a yoga practice Connecting your breath with your movement is a great way to re-attune your body. Here are some go-to yoga classes to fit any mood and will leave you transformed. - Relaxing yin class with Affirmation (40 mins) - Feel-good sunrise flow - Beginner Friendly (15 mins) - 10 Min HIIT - Core Blaster! - Fiery Power Yoga Flow (30)
8. Connect with friends and socialize At least once a week, go socialize with friends. Go out to brunch, the cafe, or drinks. Ask if they want to take a nature walk with you so you both can get outside time and spend quality time together!
9. Take a relaxing trip If you can manage, take a relaxing trip to a sunny area like the Dominican Republic, Cabo, Hawaii, or Florida if you want to keep it in the US.
10. Indulge in aromatherapy Tea, incense, essential oils, and candles are amazing for improving your moodscape. Lighting incense or candles will help you score your environment with comforting vibes and calm your nervous system. Incense is proven to help you sleep, improve creativity, relieve stress, and helps the brain release chemicals that fight the symptoms of depression. Or steep your favorite comforting tea and savor it. Grounding essential oils like eucalyptus, cedarwood, and lavender are helpful to provide a connection to earth and relieve feelings of disconnection and loneliness. Here are my favorite essential oils, incense + holders, candles, and tea to comfort you.
11. Stick to a schedule Sticking to a consistent schedule is huge in managing your mental health. This means going to bed at relatively the same time and waking up at the same time. This consistency helps your body rebuild a healthy and predictable circadian rhythm so it knows when to easily fall into rest.
During the day, having consistent morning rituals will change your life.
Here are 10 small morning habits for your physical and mental health. When you know what certain parts of your day look like - especially your mornings - your brain experiences less anxiety and can be both more productive and creative because you have regularity and are not creating each day from scratch.
I hope these 11 tips help ease seasonal affective disorder symptoms.
There is no quick fix for these - or any - mental health challenges. Integrating small healthy habits into various areas of your life, allow you to be more solid-footed.
Start incorporating one or two this week and start with the tactics that excite you. You’ll be more likely to stick with steps towards your mental health if they light you up. Important Note: If you’re experiencing deep depression please contact your doctor and know my heart is with you.