Winter can be a tough time for a lot of people. There is less daylight, the weather is colder, and it can feel like a bit of a drag overall. For some, this season can be downright depressing. Older people might even get seasonal affective disorder.
If you’re someone who struggles with seasonal depression, know that you’re not alone. Up to 10 million people have seasonal affective disorder. Fortunately, there are things you can do to ease your symptoms. Here are five proven ways to fight off seasonal depression as winter approaches.
If you feel down in the dumps as winter approaches, you may suffer from seasonal depression, commonly known as seasonal affective disorder, or SAD. Seasonal depression is a type of major depressive disorder that occurs during the same season each year, typically beginning in the fall or winter and ending in the spring or early summer.
While SAD can occur at any age, it’s most common in young adults and becomes less frequent with age. Women are also statistically more likely than males to suffer from SAD. Symptoms of SAD include feelings of despair, hopelessness, and lethargy; decreased energy levels; social withdrawal; oversleeping; and increased appetite, particularly for carbohydrates. If you’re experiencing any or all of these common symptoms, it’s important to see your doctor for a diagnosis and treatment plan. For now, here are five ways to help ease your seasonal depression symptoms.
Get outside every day, even when it’s cold.
Just because it’s chilly outside doesn’t mean you should hole up indoors until spring arrives. In fact, getting some fresh air every day can do wonders for your mental health. So bundle up and go for a walk, rake some leaves, or just sit on a park bench and soak up some sunshine (when there is sunshine). You’ll be surprised at how much better you feel when you get some fresh air in your lungs, no matter what the temperature is outside. You will have an easier time if you stay active or even run during the winter.
When we are outside, our bodies produce more serotonin. Serotonin is a chemical found in our brains that helps regulate mood, and sunlight helps the body produce more of it. So getting outdoors, even on cloudy days, can help improve your mood.
Another benefit of being outside is that our bodies absorb the essential nutrient vitamin D. A healthy vitamin D level is important for many reasons, including its role in calcium absorption, which will support strong bones and bone health. But vitamin D has also been linked to a lower risk of depression and a healthy immune response. Maintaining adequate vitamin D levels in your body can be achieved by spending some time outside each day. If you are unable to spend time in the outdoors, look for a vitamin D3 dietary supplement. Vitamin D3 1000 IU is a common dose for adults, but you can get supplements as low as 600 and 800 IU.
Make your home a cozy haven.
When it’s cold and dark outside, make sure your home is a warm and inviting place to be. Light some scented candles, put on a soft blanket, and crank up the heat, whatever makes you feel comfortable and relaxed at home. This will help minimize your SAD symptoms by giving you a place to escape the dreariness of winter.
Your home needs to feel like a sanctuary where you can relax and de-stress. So take some time to make it feel cozy and inviting. Fill your home with pictures of family and friends. Add your kid’s or grandkid’s artwork to the walls. Discover what brings you joy day to day and surround yourself with reminders of those emotions. You’ll be glad you did when the winter blues start to set in.
There have been studies done relating to colors in your home and how they affect your mood. Studies have shown that colors can help improve your mood, while others might make you feel more anxious or stressed. As an example, blue and green are calming colors that can help ease anxiety. Yellow is a happy color that can help boost your mood. If you are looking to add color to your home to help with your seasonal depression, consider these options.
Exercise regularly—but don’t overdo it.
Staying active is arguably the best thing you can do for your mental health, but that doesn’t mean you should spend every free moment at the gym during winter. Choose activities you enjoy and make time for them every day or week, whether going for a run or taking a community yoga class at the local rec center. Make sure not to overexert yourself; too much exercise can worsen SAD symptoms.
When working out, our brains release endorphins. Endorphins are chemicals that interact with the brain’s receptors, reducing our perception of pain. They also have mood-elevating effects and can act as a natural high. So when we exercise, we not only improve our physical health but our mental health as well.
The average person should exercise for 30 minutes a day, but if you’re just starting out, aim for 10 minutes a day and gradually increase your time as you feel more comfortable. Remember, the goal is to make exercise a regular part of your routine, so find something you enjoy and stick with it. If you find that you’re struggling to motivate yourself to exercise, try working out with a friend or signing up for a class. Having someone to hold you accountable can make all the difference.
Eat healthy foods, but don’t deprive yourself either.
Just like exercise, what you eat can impact your mental health, for better or worse. Eating healthy foods that give you sustained energy throughout the day (think: fruits, vegetables, and whole grains) can help improve your mood, fight off fatigue, and improve immune health. But if you really want comfort food like macaroni and cheese or a big slice of pie, indulge in moderation. Depriving yourself will only make you feel worse in the long run. Moderation is key.
It is important that our diets consist of all of the good food to supply our bodies with the vitamins and minerals we need. Even though we try hard sometimes, we fall short on the necessary vitamins. To cover those gaps in nutrients, dietary supplements are a good alternative. There are many different forms of supplements, so find one that’s easy for you to include in your routine. Gummy vitamins are the easiest to consume, and they taste great. A good supplement starter pack would be multi-vitamin gummies, some omega-3s, and vitamin D gummies.
Seek professional help if needed.
If lifestyle changes like these aren’t enough to ease your SAD symptoms, don’t hesitate to seek professional help. A therapist can offer support and guidance as you manage your condition, while medication may also be an option. Seasonal depression is common and nothing to be ashamed of, so don’t hesitate to reach out for help if needed.
With technology, it has become easier than ever to get help for your seasonal depression. You can now video call or text a therapist from the comfort of your own home. If you’re not sure where to start, try searching for a therapist on Google or visiting the website of a local mental health center.
Seasonal depression is no joke, but there are things you can do to ease your symptoms and get through the winter months without too much difficulty. By following these five tips, you’ll be on your way to feeling like yourself again in no time. If lifestyle changes aren’t enough to improve your symptoms of seasonal depression, talk to your doctor about other treatment options that may be available to you.