If you feel unusually sad during the change of seasons beginning in late fall, you are not alone. An estimated 10 million people are impacted by seasonal affective disorder (SAD), also known as seasonal depression. As a clinician who see’s clients year around, I am familiar with the change of progress around the time of the season change, particularly when the clock shifts and it starts getting darker around 4pm. Clients share that they miss the sun, summer adventures, the fun activities like concerts, the long days, walks and runs outside and many more. They began describing their days as “boring,” “depressing,” and even “lonely.” Symptoms reported include fatigue, loss of interest in daily activities, agitation, feeling “heavy”, weight gain or loss. Not having as much sunlight can cause real change in brain chemicals, specifically serotonin and melatonin. So, when you begin feeling this way around the seasons change, know that it can be biological. Fluctuations in these chemicals lead to moodiness and sadness. We crave natural light! I remember once talking to my chiropractor, who wrote on the prescription sheet, “walk or spend time 30 minutes a day outside.” The kicker being – outside. Sometimes the most healing tips are in arms reach if able. You may be reading this, identifying with the symptoms, nodding your head, and thinking “yeah now what?” Here are some tips I give to my clients during these difficult times.
As always, remember that what works for one may not work for all, but we won’t know unless we try!
- Identify potential triggers:
Many stressors we can unfortunately not escape (for example: job or money worries, illness, divorce). These are hard and cannot simply be avoided. However, there may be triggers that we can do our best to eliminate. If going to your in-laws, folding the same clothes over and over that you don’t enjoy wearing, dinner with friends you haven’t enjoyed spending time with, or trying to fit into jeans that haven’t fit for a long time sound familiar – an idea would be to donate the clothes, don’t go to your in laws or dinner or buy new jeans. If it seems impossible to not attend these outings, simply being aware of the trigger may help you. Set firm boundaries. Knowledge is power! Noticing that some things are more difficult may allow you to prepare better in the future.
- Try something new:
Sometimes it’s easy to get stuck in the idea that summer offers much more fun and excitement. It seems like there are more things to do and it seems easier to stay motivated. Here is a reminder that there are fun winter activities too. Perhaps it’s time to slow down, practice mindfulness and meditation, watch more movies, attempt to cook or bake at home or dive into a novel, enjoy a cup of coffee. If there is something you have wanted to try but haven’t had the time, maybe now it is.
- Seek support:
Maybe now is the time to let friends and family know that you struggle with SAD. Offer the support you’d want in receive. If unable to do that, if so burnt out that sounds overwhelming, I encourage you to try to be bold about what you need. Maybe a cooked dinner, help with laundry, someone to get you out of this house. Typically, people want to help, maybe it is time to think about what that looks like for you. Other options include looking into a therapist and investing your time in talk therapy, specifically CBT. If finances are an issue, it may be helpful to dig deep into your employee assistance program which may provide therapy options.
- Diet and exercise:
We underestimate the importance of healthy nutrients and movement. A little exercise goes a long way and there is something to be said about eating healthier options instead of fast food. The mind-gut connection is real and choosing healthier options with movement is proven to assist in anxiety and depression.
Research shows that gratitude is strongly related to happiness. Every morning, aim to jot down or think of three specific things you are grateful for. Did you make every green light on the way to work? Enjoy your cup of coffee this morning? Hear from an old friend? A new Netflix show is set to release, and you can’t wait to watch it? Practicing gratitude has unbelievable physical and mental results – simply try this for 3 weeks!
- Create a good space:
A clean space, a happy space, one that you enjoy! Does this mean delicious smelling candles and a cozy blanket? A snack and water that’s easily accessible? A desk that is clean and organized? A work and home environment that is tailored to your desires and needs will set you up for a better chance of success.
- Light therapy:
If able, invest in a non‐pharmacological treatment that exposes you to light – a light therapy lamp. The goal is for the lamp to mimic outdoor light and assist in the chemical change caused by seasonal change.
Have grace and compassion for yourself. Give yourself the positive affirmations and love to yourself that you are most likely so freely giving to others. You are doing the best you can and that is simply enough.
Sending you LIGHT.