Seasonal depression is incredibly common. At some point during the long, grey winter months, most of us struggle with something between the winter blues and full-blown depression. Around 5% of adults are diagnosed with seasonal depression every year, with that percentage rising dramatically in those with other mental health conditions such as bipolar disease and general depression. Even those of us that don’t have a diagnosis are likely to struggle with winter blues, stress in the run-up to Christmas, and other mental health issues.
There are many causes of seasonal depression. It’s a stressful time of the year when most of us have huge to-do lists. Christmas for many is a lonely time or one filled with regrets. There’s also plenty of evidence to suggest that a lack of natural sunlight, cold weather, and not spending enough time outdoors contribute to a low mood in the winter months. It’s not uncommon during the darker months to struggle to lift your mood or to find it hard to find enjoyment in things that you usually love.
While seasonal depression is common, we don’t just have to hunker down under our duvets and live with it until spring. Here are some of the steps that you can take to beat it and enjoy the winter as much as you can.
When it comes to the winter blues, bad days, and the occasional low mood, you can usually practice self-care, make some lifestyle changes, and get through it alone. But seasonal depression is more than this. If you are really suffering, you can’t simply snap out of it. You can find comfort and reduce symptoms with the lifestyle changes that we’ll look at, but you should still get help from a professional if you think that you need it, or you don’t feel as though things are getting better.
Make an appointment at a functional medicine clinic like the Ruscio Institute. They’ll make sure that no underlying health conditions are causing your depression, and offer some advice, therapy options, or even medication to help. If you are busy (which never helps) the Ruscio Institute also offers telehealth services to help.
Going outside is nearly always good for you. Of course, if you are in the middle of a storm and it’s unsafe, you should stay in, and when you go out in bad weather you should always make sure you are well wrapped up and wearing waterproof clothing. You should also wear something reflective if you are out in the dark. But, fresh air, the little vitamin D that you’ll get from any sunlight breaking through the clouds, and exercise will all boost your mood. Even a short walk every day can help.
Make Changes to Your Diet
One element of seasonal depression is fatigue. Being tired is both a cause and a side-effect of low mood. What you eat has a big effect on your energy levels, so if you are feeling down, take a look at your diet.
At this time of the year, it’s tempting to indulge in all the treats on offer, and there’s nothing wrong with that. Treats are a great pick-me-up, and you certainly don’t have to miss out to stay healthy. But make sure you do it in moderation. Add plenty of fruit and vegetables to your diet to boost your energy levels and your immune system. Drink plenty of water and enjoy both caffeine and alcohol in moderation.
Try Artificial Light
We understand SAD, its causes and its effects a lot more than we used to. This means that there are more treatments and help available. One of these that’s incredibly popular is light. Bright light therapy is thought to keep your circadian rhythms in balance, boost vitamin D levels and help you to regulate your mood. Lightboxes, alarms with lights, and other items are readily available.
Prioritize Social Activities and Fun
When we feel low, it’s hard to force ourselves to get out and see people. But one of the main causes of seasonal depression is isolation. Book events with friends, invite people around for dinner or coffee if you don’t want to go out, and try to do something that you find enjoyable every day.
Fill Your Home with Comfort
It’s important that you are surrounded by things that you enjoy. Fill your home with comforts like cushions, books, films, your favorite foods and drinks and other things that bring you joy. You should also try aromatherapy with oils and scented candles, which can calm your mind and soothe your soul.
Create a Schedule
Your winter schedule might not be the same as your summer one. You might not want to run in the dark or walk to work in bad weather. You might go to bed earlier or eat dinner at a different time. Your winter schedule doesn’t have to be the same, but it can still help to have one that you can stick to.
Seasonal depression isn’t something that will just go away. But with the right changes and medical help you can make winters more bearable, or even enjoyable.