The winter months are tough for a lot of people. Between stressful holiday planning, the lack of sunlight, and the bitter cold, winter can be brutal on mental health. Many of my clients struggle and don’t know how to fight seasonal depression. But although getting through the colder months can be challenging, there are ways to cope with it. So let’s talk about why seasonal affective disorder (SAD) can be so difficult, and what you can do about it.
‘Tis the Season (For Seasonal Depression)
If you struggle with the winter blues, you’re not alone. Up to 10% of the US population experiences seasonal depression, and women are more at risk than men for developing SAD.
Seasonal depression is more than just feeling a bit down or “off” during the colder months. Many people struggle with depression and sadness during the winter. It’s also common to feel more tired during the darker season. Mental health is a spectrum, but SAD is associated with severe changes in things like:
Weight gain or loss
Disrupted sleep patterns
Whatever symptoms you’re dealing with, know there’s nothing wrong with you. There are many factors that go into making seasonal depression a struggle. Some of these influences are environmental, like not having as many social outings.
There are also many chemical changes that happen in the body when you have SAD. The shorter, colder, greyer days can severely disrupt serotonin production in some people. A lack of serotonin is a common cause of depression.
Low light can also reduce vitamin D and melatonin levels in your body. Vitamin D helps balance your mood and mental health. Melatonin helps you fall and stay asleep at night. These reductions can result in mood issues and out of whack circadian rhythms that impact your sleep schedule. And as we all know, not getting enough quality sleep can cause mental health to plummet even further.
How to Fight Seasonal Depression
The seasonal affective disorder season can be tricky to navigate, but there are ways to feel better. Here are 5 ways to fight seasonal depression this winter.
Consider light therapy and/or Vitamin D supplements. Tools like light treatment and Vitamin D supplements are widely seen as beneficial in reducing symptoms of seasonal depression. This is because SAD is associated with a lack of light and Vitamin D in the body. Using a light box for 20-30 minutes per day can help boost full-spectrum light wavelengths in your body. You may also consider taking a Vitamin D supplement.
Seek support. Asking for help makes a big difference in reducing feelings of sadness, shame, or isolation. Talk to trusted loved ones about your situation. And consider counseling. Therapy is widely recognized as one of the most helpful ways to improve mental health, including SAD. Working with a therapist can help you recognize unhelpful habits, change your response to difficult emotions, and find healthy ways to cope during these long dark days. You may also want to talk to a doctor or psychiatrist about anti-depressants. They can help give you the chemical support you need in order to function at a more sustainable level by balancing serotonin in the body.
Make an effort to socialize. I get it – socializing can feel so difficult when you’re in the depths of SAD. If you work from home or live alone, it can be especially tough to connect with other people. But pushing yourself to get out of your comfort zone can make a huge difference to your mental health.
If the thought of socializing makes your skin crawl, try telling yourself you’ll attend a party or gathering for just 30 minutes or an hour. Give yourself full permission to make your exit after that, and see how it feels. Or you can ask friends to hang out in ways that don’t require a lot of energy. Try a tea date with a friend somewhere quiet, for example, or a short walk if it’s nice outside. Having 1:1 time with people you care about can help you feel more connected and boost your mood.
Cultivate self-compassion. Your needs might be different during the seasonal affective disorder season, and that’s okay. Maybe you need more rest, less stimulation, or slower days than you’re used to. Sometimes having needs and then tending to those needs can bring up a lot of hard feelings like guilt, anger, grief, or fear. This is especially true if your needs weren’t tended to lovingly when you were young. However you’re feeling is okay, and whatever you need is also okay. Developing self-compassion and giving yourself what you need is necessary for getting through any mental health struggle, including seasonal depression.
Know that you’re not doing anything wrong. Depression feels shitty enough on its own. But if you add extra layers of guilt or worry that you’re somehow doing something wrong on top of it all, it can make the whole thing much worse. Know this: you’re not doing anything wrong, and there’s nothing in you that needs to be “fixed.” The seasonal affective disorder season is no joke, and it impacts so many people. Be kind to yourself, and know you are no less good or worthy or lovable if all you can do is survive it.
I also want you to realize that depression isn’t something that you can magically make go away. You didn’t do anything to deserve to feel this way. It doesn’t help to say “but I should be feeling better” or “I should be able to socialize or do my work without feeling like I’m stuck in a dark hole with no way out.” Stop should-ing yourself! If you don’t known how to fight seasons depression, that’s why help exists. There is nothing wrong with you for having SAD during the seasonal affective disorder season.
Therapy Can Help Support You During the Seasonal Affective Disorder Season
If you’d like support feeling your best this winter, consider counseling. I can help you figure out how to fight seasonal depression, reframe your thoughts and emotions in a healthy way, and come up with feel-good ways to cope during the hard times. During our work together, you’ll learn tools, skills, and behaviors to accept and empower yourself through seasonal depression.
I’m ready if you are. Reach out today to schedule a complimentary consultation.
Meet the author
Danielle is an anxiety therapist. She specializes in helping busy millennials dial down their anxiety and ADHD, so they can perform at their best. Danielle has been featured on Apartment Therapy, SparkPeople, Lifewire, and Now Art World. When Danielle isn't helping her clients, she's playing video games or spending time with her partner and step children.
May 27, 2023
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