Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD) is a common experience in fall and winter. The cold weather, limited sunlight and holiday stress create the perfect recipe for mental health trouble. If you’re worried about the cold months ahead, this guide can help you prepare in advance.
What Causes Seasonal Depression?
Seasonal depression is primarily caused by a change in sunlight. Days are shortest in the spring and summer, which affects your internal clock and natural production of serotonin. Combine this with work stress, family stress, life stress, and the constant need to be indoors. Your mind soon spirals into helplessness.
When Does Seasonal Depression Start?
The onset of seasonal depression varies by person and location. Since winter/fall seasonal depression relates to sun exposure, you may experience symptoms after the first day of autumn. This starts the transition to the winter solstice – the shortest day of the year. Northern areas have shorter winter days than southern areas in the United States, so SAD may kick in earlier in the north.
How to Prepare for Seasonal Depression in Advance
SAD affects people in different ways. If your mental health declines in winter, these seasonal depression tips can help you through the hurdle.
Talk to your therapist ahead of time to find personalized coping strategies. Your therapist knows your unique situation, including your triggers and past traumas. They can use this information to recommend coping strategies for you. Gather a toolbox of resources to pull from when the depression hits.
Wake up early to make the most of the daylight hours. Limited sunlight is a common cause of SAD in winter. The sun is up for less time, so your body has fewer hours to absorb it. Waking up an hour earlier may provide more access to the minimal sunlight available. You don’t have to wake up before dawn, but consider shifting your schedule to fit the sunshine.
Don’t worry about over-sleeping in the winter. If you find yourself feeling more exhausted in the winter months, don’t be afraid to sleep a little extra. A study from the Journal of Sleep Research revealed that people affected by seasonal depression often struggle with nightmares, insomnia, restlessness and other sleep difficulties. Listen to your body when it says you need sleep. This may offset the tossing and turning you do at night.
Utilize your cuddle buddy, if you have one. This could be a partner or a pet, depending on your situation. Snuggling with a loved one can soothe your stress, ease your sadness, and make you feel safer as you sleep. This sets the tone for a pleasant morning the following day.
Clean your depression den and get organization systems in place. You may not be able to stop yourself from eating dinner every night in bed, but you can eliminate existing clutter to prepare for that. Tidy up your home and create solutions for upcoming stressors. You’ll feel more empowered to tackle tough days in the winter.
Alert your support system, if you feel comfortable. Let your friends and family know about the struggles you may face in the next few months. When you find yourself in a tough spot, you can look to them for comfort and guidance.
Place visible affirmations in places you frequent. This could be the bathroom mirror, your nightstand, your work desk, etc. Write yourself positive notes that you can look at when you’re feeling down.
Remember, it will get better! Seasonal Affective Disorder is only around for the season. Once the sun starts to shine, you’ll feel more like yourself. Talk through your struggles with your counselor and lean on your support system. You’ll be on the other side of this in no time.