10 Ways to Manage Seasonal Affective Disorder
Seasonal Affective Disorder affects millions of people around the world, but there are a number of helpful home remedies to overcome the seasonal blues, including spending time in the sun, altering your diet, seeking out new hobbies, maintaining physical fitness, light therapy, boosting Vitamin D levels, taking a vacation, and trying aromatherapy, among others.
Seasonal Affective Disorder
When you wake up in the middle of winter and feel a grey pall fall over your life, as though you’ve lost all energy or motivation to do anything productive or pleasant, you may be suffering from symptoms of Seasonal Affective Disorder. This condition is also called the winter blues or summer sadness, and is characterized by a normal mental health pattern for most of the year, but a stark drop-off in happiness and energy levels in either the summer or winter. Summer seasonal affective disorder typically includes high anxiety, but most symptoms include excess sleep and lethargy, a lack of energy and depressive symptoms.
While this was at one point disregarded by many physicians as a mood disorder, and not a commonly recognized or diagnosed condition, it is now more widely respected and is known to affect up to 10% of the population in certain regions (usually those with incredibly long seasons of winter or summer). In areas like Alaska, Canada, Russia and Scandinavian countries, the long winters mean going months without seeing sunlight, which can not only deplete the amount of vitamin D in the body, but also change the brain chemistry and increase feelings of hopelessness, depression, angst and anxiety. Similarly, the intense pressures of long summers and oppressive, hot weather can shift the body chemistry to produce similar lethargy, anxiety and depression. While traditional treatments of depression are widely suggested by doctors and mental health professionals, there are also many natural remedies for seasonal affective disorder that can help to boost your spirits.
10 Ways to Manage Seasonal Affective Disorder
1. Sunshine – The main cause of seasonal affective disorder is believed to be the stark lack of sunlight (at least in the winter version of this disorder). Even if you live somewhere that only gets a few hours of sunlight each day, be sure to get out in the sunshine and soak up anything you can. Fresh air and a good walk also increase circulation and boost energy levels. Staying cooped up inside can help exacerbate depressive symptoms, but the natural beauty of a sun-strewn day helps to boost your mood.
2. New Hobbies – It can be easy to get bored during long winters, and boredom often leads to reclusive behavior, sadness and loneliness. Pursuing a new interest, like taking up carpentry, trying out yoga or mastering the game of chess may not be ideal summertime activities, but they will engage your brain and creative juices during bouts of seasonal affective disorder and can keep your mental health in good shape through the long winter months.
3. Staying in Shape – Regularly exercising will keep your body in good physical shape for the coming seasons, while also increasing endorphin levels in the body and boosting energy. You can try anything from weight lifting and resistance training to yoga or Pilates to overcome your depression during those tough months. Just get active to boost your self-esteem and excitement about life.
4. Light Therapy – A depletion of vitamin D is almost unavoidable when you only have a few hours of sunlight per day, but the simple presence of light can help with your mental balance. Personal light boxes can be purchased quite readily and can be placed on a bedside table or an office desk. A bright source of gentle light can help your body maintain somewhat regular Circadian rhythms, which are very important for those suffering from SAD.
5. Taking a Vacation – Changing your scene can do wonders for your mental health, and if you are struggling through a long winter or summer somewhere, why not change your perspective? Getting away for a few weeks or even a couple days can do wonders for your mental health, engage your creative and social side, and help to recharge your batteries for when you return home.
6. Cutting Back on Alcohol – It might seem natural to drink away one’s problems in the summer sun or curl up with some booze on a cold winter’s night, but alcohol is a depressant, and while it temporarily makes you feel better or more satisfied, it can have powerful effects on mental health, particularly if you’re drinking for the “wrong” reasons. You want to be stable when suffering from SAD, and alcohol doesn’t provide that sort of balance.
7. Aromatherapy – Many aromatherapy varieties are soothing and naturally anxiolytic in nature, which can reduce the tension and stress you may be feeling as the days get shorter or hotter. Aromatherapy can impact the body’s natural clock, its desires for sleeping and eating, and also decrease depressive feelings or thoughts. Aromatherapy can help keep your body chemistry normal and healthy through the hardest seasons of the year.
8. Dietary Alterations – There are very few foods that naturally contain Vitamin D, but if you suffer from winter Seasonal Affective Disorder, then adding vitamin D rich foods is essential. If you can’t get sunshine, get your vitamin D from mushrooms, fatty fish, egg yolks, cod liver oil, and orange juice.
9. Get on a Schedule – If you can establish a routine and schedule for your days, it will be harder for one day to blur into the next. Set a standard format for your days in terms of meal times, workout times, bedtime rituals and make sure to keep busy, rather than bumming around the house and allowing the depressive symptoms to take over your thoughts.
10. Artistic Pursuits – You may not consider yourself much of an artist, but artistic pursuits are wonderful for stress relief and increasing cognitive activity. You might not have the energy to go to work or exercise, but picking up a paint brush or a pen to write in a journal engages different parts of your brain and satisfies our mind in a new way. Pursuing any sort of artistic outlet can also help you manage depressive emotions and pass the time in a rewarding way.