We all have an image in our heads of the perfect cold, wintery day. All wrapped up in a warm scarf and drinking mulled wine by the fire, in our imaginations, we are smiling with joy and peacefully appreciating the lights twinkling around us. The reality for many of us, however, is very different. And as the the clocks shift back and dark, chilly evenings take over it can mean less festive cheer and more trouble controlling our moods.
Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD) or Seasonal Depression affects around one in every fifteen people in the UK and around ten million people in the US. It's more common in women than in men—affecting about four times as many—and the typical symptoms are similar to other forms of depression, making you to feel tired, weepy and anxious.
Combat SAD with some extra self-care.
Seasonal Affective Disorder is not much fun and certainly isn't very festive. But don’t worry, help is at hand. There are plenty of things you can do to help yourself feel less affected by the “winter blues” this year.
Here are five of the best ways I’ve found to take care of myself during winter. Try them out, see which ones work for you, and don’t be discouraged by the way you’re feeling—you are not alone!
1. Light therapy
Light therapy is currently considered one of the best forms of treatment for SAD and the one I personally find most helpful. It is thought that exposure to special fluorescent light can help regulate serotonin activity in the brain because it encourages the production of vitamin D. You can buy light therapy boxes online and there are different versions, so make sure you choose the right one for you!
2. Morning exercise
Regular exercise is considered an excellent form of natural medication for all types of depression, including SAD, as it improves mood and lowers stress levels. I recommend getting outside and going for a brisk walk in the fresh air first thing in the morning. It’s a good way to wake your body up, get some natural light, and get your blood pumping.
3. Have fun
Part of the problem with SAD is that—like other forms of depression—it can trap you in a negative thought spiral. It’s important to find fun activities that you can enjoy and that make you feel more positive about winter. Find a local outdoor ice rink, start a snowball fight (if you’re lucky enough to live somewhere with snow!), or organize a pajama party with your friends. Engage in activities that get you out of the comfort of your own home and have fun with other people.
Maintaining good sleep habits is highly important if you’re suffering from SAD. Poor sleep contributes to symptoms of depression and depression contributes to poor sleep. So, basically, sleep is key for good mental health! Here are some tips for better sleep:
- Keep a regular schedule: Try to go to bed and get up at the same time every day, and avoid napping. If you really have to, keep your naps under a half-hour.
- Follow a sleep routine: This will help signal to your body that it’s time for bed. Try yoga or meditation—or take a warm, relaxing bath!
- Make sure your bedroom is prepped for sleeping: A dark, quiet, cool room is key to restful sleep. Consider using a fan to keep cool and put on some white noise to help you relax.
- Avoid sleeping with your phone/tablet/laptop in your room and definitely don’t use them just before bed: The light they emit sends signals to your brain that interrupt your circadian rhythms and wake you up—not what you need when you’re trying to promote healthy sleep!
And last but certainly not least, why not try aromatherapy? Aromatherapy is the use of essential oils for the purposes of healing and research shows that it can be helpful for both mental and physical health. It works by triggering receptors in the brain and in fact, a 2007 study showed that lavender oil significantly reduced levels of cortisol (the major stress hormone) in patients suffering from depression. So try putting a couple drops of oil on your pillow at night, adding some to a bath, or buying a diffuser for your house. Many holistic health practitioners believe the best scents for alleviating symptoms of depression are lavender, roman chamomile, ylang-ylang and bergamot.And most of all, if you’re really struggling with SAD, reach out to someone and talk about what you’re going through. Don’t ever suffer in silence!