Many of us are excited for the prospects of Spring. But for some, especially in the cloudy Northeast, it cannot come soon enough. After a long winter (have you ever heard of a short one?) those afflicted by Seasonal Affective Disorder have had almost more winter than they can bear. Even though Spring is less than 30 days away, some SAD sufferers are having a hard time holding out for sunshine.
Seasonal Affective Disorder is a type of depression. It is not just a bad mood or the winter blues. It is a real, diagnosable form of depression. That it is seasonal does not make it any less serious a condition. According to the Mayo Clinic, “Treatment for SAD may include light therapy (phototherapy), medications and psychotherapy.” It is important to Do Something about SAD because all forms of depression impact your quality of life, but if you don’t have access to meds, therapy, or a light box there are some things you can do right now that can make a difference.
#1. Go outdoors! Even if it is not sunny out there, get outdoors and move your body. It will free you from your To-Do list. And even if it is not sunny, even if it is raining, there is more accessible light outdoors than in. The standard lux levels (lux is a unit of illuminance, equal to one lumen per square meter) inside an office are somewhere around 200 lux whereas the lux levels at midday during an overcast day are 1,000-2,000 lux. Exposure to sunlight, even dim sunlight, causes the body to produce Vitamin D, an essential nutrient that helps build strong bones and ward off depression.
#2. Be Social. Healing from any kind of depression can be a long process, but socializing and making new friends, though it sounds trivial, can help you manage your depressive symptoms. “Research from the journal, Mind, Mood & Memory finds that connecting with others helps to improve your mood and fight off depression.” (https://depression.newlifeoutlook.com/socialization-depression/)
#3. Breathe. It sounds too simple to be helpful, but breath-focus is one of the most accessible forms of meditation. And meditation’s moderating effects on depression and anxiety are well documented. Depression medications work by boosting neurotransmitters, serotonin and norepinephrine. Meditation does too! Here is a quick 5-minute breathing meditation that just might change your day: https://www.mindful.org/a-five-minute-breathing-meditation/
#4. Do Kinds Acts for Others. ‘Random acts of kindness’ is not just a cute bumpers ticker. Such acts have the potential to counter the negative feeling that arise from Seasonal Affective Disorder. Studies show that those who do kinds acts to others are “more likely to experience improvement in their mood than individuals who only did nice things for themselves.” (https://www.thebestbrainpossible.com/how-random-acts-of-kindness-can-ease-depression/)
It is also important to take a long-term approach to Seasonal Affective Disorder. (Winter will probably come again next year, so plan ahead.) A light box and an exercise regimen are important for controlling your SAD as are a good, balanced diet and good nutrition. Though some people find Cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT), a type of psychotherapy, to be more effective in the long term, a light box can help by simulating sunshine which triggers a serotonin release in the brain; moderate exercise also releases endorphins. Aromatherapy has also shown some positive influences in combatting SAD.
In any case, consult your healthcare practitioner and invest in some self-care. Bring some flowering plants indoors. Get a massage. Do Yoga. Breathe and know that there are only 27 days, 1 hour, and 33 minutes until spring. Take a look at this website: https://days.to/spring/2018. You might find that the feeling of forward movement toward a sunnier season lifts your spirits.