Seasonal affective disorder (SAD) is a type of depression that accompanies each of the four seasons. While there are people that suffer from SAD during warmer months, most people report their worst cases during in the fall, and winter months, when the days are colder, shorter, and darker. For those in the Baltimore, Maryland area, this can be especially true.
Although anyone can fall victim to Seasonal Affective Disorder, SAD's main risk factors are age, gender, distance from nature, depression history or other emotional disorders.
What should you do if you realize your mental health gets more difficult to handle during colder months? What do you do when the start of winter also means the start of or higher levels of depression? How do you deal with a lack of motivation, feelings of hopelessness, and debilitating fatigue?
Based on our observations and experience within our Psychiatric Rehabilitation Programs (PRP), here are some tips on how to treat and or cope with Seasonal Affective Disorder.
Get natural sunlight
Seasonal depression can make it difficult to motivate yourself to do the very things you may have otherwise done or wanted to do. It can make a simple task like getting ready to hang out with friends feel excruciating. Whenever possible, please go out in the sun, and go for a walk or meet friends at a near by park. Grab your sunscreen, avoid wearing sunglasses and soak up as much sun as possible. Even in the small doses, sunlight can help raise serotonin levels and improve your mood.
Regular exercise is a powerful way to combat seasonal depression, especially if you can exercise outdoors in natural light. Regular exercise can boost endorphins, serotonin, and other chemicals that make you feel good. Consistent work-outs can help treat or alleviate some of the symptoms of mild to moderate depression. You don't have to become a gym rat, but simple exercises such as jogging, swimming, dancing, or even walking a dog is a great way to get your body moving, and interact with others. Exercise can also help improve sleep and enhance self-esteem.
Reach out to your family and friends
Creating and maintaining healthy relationships can also help with Seasonal Affective Disorder. Surrounding yourself with family and friends, reduces your time spent in isolation and can help you manage SAD. For some, retracting into their shell may feel more comfortable, but being with other people can boosts your mood and strengthen the ties you have with loved ones.
A Healthy diet
We are what we eat. When dealing with depression, it is important to be mindful of your habits, and this includes your eating habits. Eat 4-5 small, balanced meals throughout the day. Make sure to include plenty of fresh fruits and vegetables to your meals. The goal is to fill your body with food that provide energy, not food that will make you sleepy or tired.
A healthy diet will help you stay energetic and minimize mood swings.
Symptoms of SAD may make you crave sugary foods and simple carbohydrates such as white bread and pasta, but intricate carbohydrates are a better choice.
Foods such as whole-wheat bread, oatmeal, bananas, and brown rice can increase your serotonin levels without causing subsequent sugar collapse.
Foods rich in certain omega-3 fats can also improve your mood and even increase the effectiveness of antidepressants.
Take measures to deal with stress
At any time of the year, too much stress can intensify or even cause depression.
Identify the stressful things in life, such as overloaded work or unsupported relationships. Make plans to avoid them or minimize their impact.
Practicing daily relaxation techniques can help you relieve stress, reduce negative emotions such as fear and anger, and increase happiness and joy.
Do something that purposely makes you smile every day. Although, you can't force yourself to have a fun, you can make it a personal goal. Find positive things that you enjoy, and do them often.