I’ve struggled with depression off and on throughout my adult life. I’ve dealt with situational depression, post-partum depression, and seasonal depression. Both medication and therapy have helped me to successfully treat both situational depression and PPD. Medication and therapy can help with seasonal depression as well, but I’ve found several additional things that have helped me to beat back the advances of seasonal depression.
Seasonal depression is most common in the fall and winter months, but some people struggle with seasonal depression in spring or summer. According to this article, “Any time your usual sources of well-being and self-care are disrupted you may be at risk [for seasonal depression].”
If you struggle with seasonal depression, begin to implement these ideas as early as possible. I begin building these habits as soon as my kids return to school in late August. That way, by the time the days are significantly shorter, I’ll have my healthy practices already going strong.
Disclaimer: I am neither a healthcare professional nor a mental health counselor. If you think you’re struggling with depression, you should make an appointment with your doctor or therapist. They can advise you on the best forms of treatment for you. You can take the following list of options with you to discuss with your provider.
Turn on the Happy Light
I’ve had a happy light for years, but last winter was the first time I used it regularly. A psychiatrist who helped me to wean off an anti-depressant in February 2020 recommended that I use my happy light every morning beginning in late October. He suggested using it for 20 minutes when I first wake up.
I was shocked by how much it affected my mood and energy levels! I often felt my energy lagging on the weekends, and I realized that it was because I was off my routine and wasn’t using my happy light. This thing made such a huge difference for me! I can’t imagine winter without it now.
Get Outside Anyway
British guidebook author and illustrator Alfred Wainwright wrote, “There’s no such thing as bad weather, only bad clothing.”
Last winter, I took this to heart. Before truly cold temperatures set in, I got in the habit of walking the dog after lunch with my preschooler almost every day. When we got significant amounts of snow in December and February, I was already conditioned for the walk (and so was the dog!). I would lace up my boots, bundle up and, at the very least, take a walk around the block.
Getting out in the fresh air and daylight helped, even—or perhaps especially—on days that I didn’t want to go. We crunched through a lot of snow (sidewalks in our neighborhood weren’t always clear). If it wasn’t dangerously icy, we braved the cold.
Getting outside and exposing yourself to the sun’s rays—weak though they may be in winter—can boost your mood. You may not be in the mood to do it, but getting outside regularly can help to fight off seasonal depression.
Speaking of Vitamin D…
A friend who works in healthcare recently told me that where we live (in Ohio), there are only two months of the year when we can absorb enough Vitamin D from the sun! Vitamin D serves a range of functions in the body, and low Vitamin D levels could contribute to depression. If you’re considering a Vitamin D supplement, check with your doctor about appropriate dosage and a quality brand.
Take Up a Winter Sport
My husband used to suffer from SAD (Seasonal Affective Disorder, or seasonal depression) …until he took up snowboarding. He now takes our daughters skiing several times a season and having a winter sport to look forward to has drastically changed his outlook on winter.
Lean into the Season
By now, most of us are familiar with the Danish idea of hygge. According to Denmark’s tourism page, hygge “means creating a warm atmosphere and enjoying the good things in life with good people. The warm glow of candlelight is hygge. Cosying up with a loved one for a movie—that’s hygge, too. And there’s nothing more hygge than sitting around with friends and family, discussing the big and small things in life.”
Hygge. Light a candle. Make soup. Curl up on the couch with a blanket and a good book. Light a fire. Start bedtime with your kids earlier and snuggle up to read for longer than usual.
Enjoy the slower pace that winter has to offer. Let yourself slow down and appreciate being warm and cozy indoors.
…But Don’t Lean in Too Far
It’s tempting to hibernate straight through the cold of fall and winter. And to a degree, that’s great. It makes sense to adjust our patterns to match the season. However, too much isolation could exacerbate your seasonal depression, so make sure you’re balancing it with some social activities. Meet your sister for coffee, invite a neighbor over for dinner, meet a friend at the movie theater. In doing so, you’ll not only assuage your loneliness, but someone else’s as well!
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