How to Prepare For Seasonal Depression
With winter just a few months away, many of us are struggling to come to grips with our annual seasonal depression. We know it’s coming and we know we should do something about it. But as to what we can do isn’t so obvious.
Seasonal affective disorder (SAD or seasonal depression) is a form of major depressive disorder that affects people only during specific times of the year. Though some will experience symptoms during the months between spring and fall, most people are most affected during winter.
This is due to the following:
Colder weather has us spending less time outside (therefore, less time in the sun).
Days are shorter meaning less overall sunlight.
For some, the holiday season brings unwanted memories.
The purpose of this article is to help you make preparations and to offer some advice on how to manage symptoms when they appear.
Symptoms of Seasonal Depression
SAD affects everyone differently. Therefore, not everyone is going to go through the same set of symptoms. This is important to keep in mind when you’re making preparations for yourself or someone you love.
The following is a list of the most common symptoms of seasonal depression:
Changes in appetite and weight
Feeling hopeless, worthless, and guilty
Loss of interest in activities which were once enjoyed
Problems with sleep (oversleeping and under-sleeping)
Suicidal thoughts or attempts*
*If you or someone you love is experiencing suicidal thoughts, it’s vital you seek help immediately. Either call 911, go to your local emergency room, or reach out to the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-TALK (1-800-273-8255).
Preparing for Seasonal Depression
Since seasonal depression happens on a regular basis, it’s one of the few mental illnesses someone can prepare for. But how do you prepare for a mental illness?
It’s important to remember that mental health affects us all differently. Therefore, preparation and management methods will vary from person to person, depending on their psychology, personality, physiology, and spiritual nature.²
The following 4 tips re intended to give you some sense of how you can prepare. They’re not universal answers.
1.) Talk to Your Therapist as Soon as Possible
If you’ve been seeing a therapist regularly, s/he will have a deep understanding of how mental health (and seasonal depression) affect you. If you don’t have a therapist, you might want to consider getting one - especially, as autumn begins to come into the picture.
A therapist will be able to offer you personal advice on how to prepare for seasonal depression. This is the kind of advice no blog article could offer.
Through a mental health professional, you’ll not only develop an understanding of how your moods and thought patterns work but what you can do in order to change these for the better.³
2.) Light Therapy
Light therapy (or phototherapy) is a form of therapy that’s meant to replace natural sun rays, which have been linked to positively affecting our moods. As mentioned, one of the biggest reasons people experience seasonal depression is due to a lack of sunlight.⁴
Studies have found that people struggling with SAD who spend about a half-hour every morning in front of a lightbox tend to have more of an ability to handle emotions.
The most convenient aspect of this therapy is you can purchase a lightbox on your own and use it in the comfort of your home. However, we recommend you consult a medical professional before doing so as this therapy can influence other conditions and medications.
3.) Vitamin D Supplements
Without sunlight, our bodies are missing out on Vitamin D. Without this, there are a number of symptoms we can experience, including:⁵
Bone and back pain
Impaired wound healing
More vulnerable to sickness
Combining these with the fact that a lack of Vitamin D leads to depression naturally makes for an unpleasant time. It’s common for doctors to prescribe a Vitamin D supplement during these months.
If you’re already aware of your seasonal depression - and if you experience any of the above symptoms during the winter months - it can be highly beneficial to look into Vitamin D supplements and begin trying some before symptoms truly kick in.
4.) Change Your Diet Habits
What we eat is directly linked to how we feel.The more healthy & balanced food one eats, the more positive they will feel.
This is due to what’s been called the brain in our gut. Scientists recently discovered that the brain directly affects the stomach and intestines and vice versa.⁶ If you’re feeling anxious, you may have noticed unpleasant feelings in your stomach. And if you’ve eaten a large, unhealthy meal, you may notice yourself receiving a headache or feeling emotionally down.
Until this discovery, the phrase, “you are what you eat,” was nothing more than superstition. Now it has conclusive scientific evidence.
A healthier diet combined with supplements used to increase positive mood can make all the difference in controlling emotions. And the sooner you start, the better off you are when winter comes around.
¹ NIMH: Seasonal Affective Disorder
² MentalHealth.gov: For People With Mental Health Problems
³ NIMH: Psychotherapies
⁵ NIH: Vitamin D
⁶ Harvard Medical School: The gut-brain connection
Written by Paul James.