5 Self-Care Tips to Beat Seasonal Depression
When the temperature drops and hours of daylight disappear, you probably feel like doing nothing but curling up underneath a blanket in front of the fireplace. You don’t feel like going to work or even stepping out of the house to buy groceries. When people ask, you tell them that you have the winter blues. So how do you beat seasonal depression?
Everyone gets winter blues from time to time. It is natural to feel a bit down when you can’t go outside because it is too cold, or when you leave for work, it’s dark, and when you return, it’s dark again. For some people, however, the changeover of the seasons can severely affect their mood and mental wellbeing. This is what we call Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD), more commonly referred to as Seasonal Depression.
What is Seasonal Affective Disorder?
SAD can be described as a form of depression that recurs in a seasonal pattern. Usually, when the daylight starts to decrease, and the weather gets colder, typically in fall and winter, people suffering from SAD will start to experience symptoms. When spring begins, SAD symptoms disappear, and people suffering from SAD will start to feel like their old selves again.
Women and young people have a higher risk of developing SAD, especially if they have a personal or family history of depression. SAD also affects more people living further away from the equator. It is possible to have episodes of SAD during the summer, but it isn’t common.
What are the Symptoms?
If you are wondering if you may be someone suffering from SAD, here are some of the symptoms to look for.
- Feeling low all the time
- Loss of pleasure and interest in everyday activities
- Feeling irritable
- Feelings of guilt or worthlessness
- Feeling tired all the time (lack of energy)
- Wanting to sleep the whole day
- Sleeping for longer and struggling to get up in the morning
- Craving foods high in carbohydrates
- Overeating and weight gain
- Antisocial behavior because you feel like “hibernating.”
Symptom severity may differ from person to person, and if you feel you are struggling to cope with these feelings, it is best to make an appointment with your healthcare practitioner.
5 Self-care Tips that can Help Seasonal Depression
Research indicates there can be more than one cause of seasonal depression. Symptoms of SAD are often associated with a part of your brain, called the hypothalamus, not working properly. This can cause too much melatonin, the hormone that makes you sleepy, or dysregulation of serotonin, the hormone that affects your mood and appetite. It is also possible that your body’s internal clock may be a bit out of balance because it relies on sunlight and vitamin D to perform certain functions. During the winter months, you are less likely to go outside (especially if you live further from the equator) to get the proper amount of Vitamin D needed for proper functioning.
Self-care is a deliberate practice to take care of your physical, emotional, and mental health. It is a practice that has become a necessity in today’s fast-paced life. Self-care means you know what is needed to take care of yourself, to live a balanced life. When you suffer from SAD, there are a few self-care tips you can apply to help relieve your SAD symptoms.
Because people suffering from SAD usually have low vitamin D levels, they may benefit from using a vitamin D supplement or going outside on sunny days, even during the wintertime. Light therapy may be beneficial for you if you can’t access sunlight during those cold months. You can read more about the value of light therapy in this article by Harvard University.
Sticking to a healthy diet
It is also important to stick to a healthy diet. Try not to give in to your cravings for processed sugar and carbohydrates. Most are just empty calories and will always leave you craving more. Add loads of fresh seasonal fruits and vegetables to your shopping list because they contain phytonutrients that can help increase and modulate hormones that help fight depression. Depressive disorders have also been linked to poor gut health, and by eating healthy, your gut will be happy and healthy.
Mood-boosting foods include anti-inflammatory foods like leafy green veggies, dark chocolate 70% or higher, berries, omega-3 rich foods like wild-caught fish, green tea, probiotics. You can read more in our Essential Guide to Reducing Inflammation here.
Join an activity group
Joining an activity or community group is a way to help you get out of the house and avoid antisocial behavior. Try something you’ve always wanted to do but never got the chance to (remember self-care is about doing enjoyable things that are good for you), like joining a book club, taking a cooking or baking class, or going for art or pottery classes. You can even look for ways to volunteer in your community or at church to give back. Staying involved will help you beat seasonal depression. Read more about the Benefits of Gratitude in this post.
Exercise is one of the best ways to boost your mood naturally. When you exercise, your body releases endorphins, a hormone that makes you feel good and relieves stress. Exercise can also become one of your ‘activities.’ So, maybe consider joining the neighborhood hiking group, or a yoga or kickboxing class.
Cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT), a form of psychotherapy, has shown to be greatly beneficial to people who suffer from SAD. CBT is a great way to help you change bad habits and negative thoughts to positive ones. Recognizing that you may need professional intervention for SAD is also a way of practicing self-care.
What are your favorite ways to avoid seasonal depression in the winter months? Let us know in the comments below.
- Michael, D. (2016). Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD): Background, Pathophysiology, Epidemiology. [online] Emedicine.medscape.com. Available at: https://emedicine.medscape.com/article/2500054-overview [Accessed 16 Nov. 2019].
- NIMH (2019). NIMH » Seasonal Affective Disorder. [online] Nimh.nih.gov. Available at: https://www.nimh.nih.gov/health/topics/seasonal-affective-disorder/index.shtml [Accessed 16 Nov. 2019].
- National Health Service (NHS) (2018). Seasonal affective disorder (SAD). [online] nhs.uk. Available at: https://www.nhs.uk/conditions/seasonal-affective-disorder-sad/ [Accessed 16 Nov. 2019].
- NCCIH (2019). Seasonal Affective Disorder and Complementary Health Approaches. [online] NCCIH. Available at: https://nccih.nih.gov/health/providers/digest/Seasonal-Affective-Disorder-science [Accessed 16 Nov. 2019].