Seasonal depression, known by the mental health community as Seasonal Affective Disorder, seems like a folklore tale to some people. Many times we can brush it off as laziness or emotion, but in the U.S. alone anywhere between 5 to 14% of the population experiences SAD annually. Seasonal affective disorder is a form of depression that begins when the winter months start and last until the onset of spring. Symptoms include irritability, tiredness or low energy, problems getting along with other people, hypersensitivity to rejection, heavy, “leaden” feeling in the arms or legs, oversleeping, appetite changes and weight gain. Most people brush off SAD as just the “winter blues,” but rarely do they do anything to combat the slump they sink into year after year. Do you struggle with seasonal depression? Try these four tips to make it through the winter blues stronger.
1) Get out of bed
To fight off the winter blues, the first and arguably most important thing you have to do is get up in the morning. I’m not sure if it’s the bitter cold or the comfort of the couch that beckons us all to become total bums, but whatever the root is, we have to resist the temptation to stay in bed or on the couch all day. For those of us who don’t work from home, this is easy during the work week. Challenge yourself to get up on the weekend as well. Even if you only make it to the grocery store or a coffee shop, you’re still out of bed. Once you’re up, learn to be present in the day. Focus on the tasks you have to complete each day. Set goals for work and home and try not to rush through the day to make it back to bed. Capitalize on your days so that you spend your winter months being productive, not just living from day to day.
2) Find community
Seasonal depression can ruin relationships. Last summer, I made it a point to throw myself deep into my church community so that when feelings of isolation knocked at my door in the winter, I’d already have an arsenal of friends to hold me accountable to get out of the house. Community serves the purpose of keeping us plugged in. Whether it’s through your church, work friends or literal community of people around you, finding a group of people to do life with will help when times get tough or even just gloomy. Find people in your life that can walk through all seasons of life with you. Even when life isn’t difficult, having community makes the winter months easier even if it means having friends to binge watch Netflix with you. So this winter, don’t neglect your community. Stay plugged in with your friends; odds are they need you too.
3) Stay Active
The last thing on anyone’s list during the winter is going to the gym. But the benefits of physical activity outweigh the investment every time. Exercise has been proven to release endorphins, which are neurotransmitters that function as the “feel good” drug of the body. Physical activity provides your body with natural levels of endorphins to help stabilize your seasonal depression. Staying active helps you to reduce the feelings of loneliness, anxiety, worry and general stress. Take staying active to another level and find a friend to commit to it with you. The two of you can hold each other accountable while fighting off the winter blues as well.
Many times putting your thoughts on paper can be therapeutic. Journaling has been proven to be a stress and anxiety relieving process. On days when you’re not feeling your best, write. Get your thoughts and emotions out on paper. Process them through writing. Committing to one page of journaling a day can help you to empty your brain of the clutter and worry that fills it. Some days journaling will be easy, and other days you may not have much to put on paper. Make a commitment to journal one page a day to provide yourself a way to process what you are feeling. Over time, journaling will become easier for you. You will notice your thoughts becoming clearer, your ability to process thoughts and emotions improving, which will help you to overcome SAD this year.
Seasonal affective disorder typically ends along with winter. If you notice signs of the winter blues in your life, take the initiative to combat them with these few steps. If you find yourself feeling symptoms associated with general depression, don’t be afraid to seek professional help or talk to your healthcare provider about ways to get help.