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8 Effective Ways To Cope With Seasonal Affective Disorder

Do you feel more sad and unmotivated when winter comes around? If so, that’s okay and is normal, but it’s important to not just shrug it off because ignoring how you feel can lead to bigger problems.

If you do feel more sad during the winter, you could be dealing with Seasonal Affective Disorder.

Keep reading to learn more about it and to get tips on the best ways to cope with these ‘winter blues’.

What is Seasonal Affective Disorder? 

According to The Mayo Clinic, Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD) is a certain form of depression that occurs when the weather starts to change.

Those that experience SAD can begin to see the symptoms during the Fall as the weather begins to change around that time. 

Once Spring and Summer come around, symptoms of SAD begin to decrease.

Although this may not be true if you live somewhere that is gloomy or cold more often than it is sunny. 

Seattle, Washington is one of the main cities known to have more cloudy days than sunny ones. So many people there experience SAD.
Seattle, Washington

For example, people who live in Seattle or Alaska will experience SAD more than those who live in Hawaii or Florida.

Therefore, they may experience it throughout the year depending on how their location’s weather is during the warmer months. 

Alongside that, it’s possible for some people to also feel more depressed during the warmer months! 

The Mayo Clinic described this as “summer depression” and although it isn’t as common as “winter depression”, it is still something that may occur due to the days being longer.

What Causes Seasonal Affective Disorder?

There is no specific cause that has been reported on SAD, but there are a few hypotheses for why it could be occurring:

Due to a decrease in sunlight and daylight savings, we may experience a decrease in a few hormones that affect our mood which are serotonin and melatonin. 

Serotonin is known as the happy hormone and when we don’t get enough sunlight across many days and weeks, that can lead to a decrease in our mood. 

Melatonin is known as the sleepy hormone and when daylight savings occurs, the days are shorter which tends to mess up our sleeping patterns. 

When our sleeping is messed up, so is our mood. 

Alongside that, Circadian rhythm could also play a role in the cause of SAD. 

Circadian rhythm is more commonly known as our biological clock and when the days begin to get shorter and are more gloomy than sunny, our internal clocks get a little confused because it is not what it’s used to. 

But this disorder isn’t only based around the winter. It’s called seasonal for a reason! 

So make sure to play close attention to how you’re feeling all year long and take note of any changes! 

Also, take note that this doesn’t mean everyone will be affected by these changes either. 

Some people may not be affected at all by seasonal changes while others may experience a drastic change in their mood and motivation. 

What Are The Signs of SAD?

In order to be aware of how you’re feeling, you will need a guide on what to look for exactly to gauge if you should seek professional help. 

Here are the common symptoms of seasonal affective disorder:

  • No interest in your favorite activities 
  • Low energy 
  • Decreased mood every day 
  • Decreased motivation to complete any tasks
  • Issues with concentrating 
  • Problems with sleeping (oversleeping/insomnia)
  • Feeling sluggish 
  • Changes in appetite 
  • Feeling agitated/irritated
  • Social withdrawal

Some of us aren’t going to experience all of these symptoms and it’s possible for you to just have a mild case of the winter blues. 

So, if you are feeling down and just want to cuddle in a blanket, but are still able to take care of your responsibilities, you are most likely experiencing winter blues. 

Whereas if you are experiencing the above symptoms and are having trouble with doing day to day tasks and missing work/school, you may have seasonal affective disorder and should talk to your doctor. 

How To Cope With SAD

If you think you may be dealing with seasonal affective disorder, please contact your doctor and ask them about treatments that could help you. 

The typical treatments for SAD are light therapy, psychotherapy, and medication. 

The tips that I’ll be providing below may be helpful, but it is not guaranteed to cure seasonal affective disorder. 

These are tips to help you cope with your depression and to help you create a routine that will help increase your motivation! 

Even if you may feel like you have a mild case of the winter blues, please don’t brush it off because how you are feeling is valid and should be addressed! 

To help you address it, here are 8 tips on how to increase your mood and motivation to cope with SAD! 

Surround Yourself with Natural Light

If you are feeling sad during the colder months, a great way to get a boost of serotonin is by surrounding yourself with natural light. 

Of course it won’t be as beneficial as the direct sun, but even on cloudy days, the sun is out!

Its just that it’s hiding behind a few clouds, so do everything you can to expose yourself to the daylight while you can! 

You can accomplish this by taking a walk outside, go to the park, or drink some coffee on your porch! 

If it is just TOO cold outside, you can get some natural light in your home!

Open up all your blinds and drapes to get as much light in your house as possible!! 

During the winter, we experience much shorter days, so maybe you can try getting daylight simulation light bulbs!

This is known as a form of light therapy and is one of the top ways SAD is treated. 

Although this wouldn’t be the official treatment, it could help to have brighter bulbs for the days when it’s extremely gloomy/rainy or for when the sun goes down! 

Try Journaling

A great way to understand how you’re feeling is to write it down!! 

Journaling is very effective in not only helping you to be aware of your feelings, but it can also be a way to address those feelings as well! 

Sometimes we may feel sad or down and not understand the reason why. 

The power of writing helps with this because if you allow yourself to just write, so much information will spill out that you didn’t even know! 

You will get so much incite on why you feel a certain way and by knowing this, you can deal with it head on! 

Journaling is a fantastic way to not only cope with seasonal affective disorder but also a great way to decrease stress and anxiety!

For example, I started to journal consistently in May because of how overwhelming the pandemic was.

From that point, I have learned that there are certain things that can change my mood, so I took that information and used it to create a schedule that will help me maintain a happy and productive mood! 

Alongside that, with your journal you could also tie in gratitude by writing down 3 things you are grateful for or 3 things that made you feel good that day! 

If you try this out, make sure to let me know in the comments!! 

Related: 10 Ways To Reduce Anxiety Without Medication

Plan a Visit to a Warmer Place

I know it is hard to travel right now due to the circumstances, but instead of traveling somewhere international maybe try staying in your country! 

In the U.S. we are able to travel comfortably within our borders, so if you live in Minnesota and need some warmth, head over to sunny California!! 

Tempe, Arizona is a very warm place to go and they have a very brief or NO winter at all sometimes!
Tempe, Arizona

Or even better head to Arizona because that is where there is NO winter!!!!!! 

If you live in another country, check your travel restrictions and see if you are able to travel at all.

If so, take note of where the government is allowing you to travel and plan a trip to a place that is different and a little warmer than your hometown!! 

Just remember to stay safe and wear your mask!! 

Eat a Healthy Diet

I know this is a cliche, but it really makes a difference when you eat healthier and balanced meals throughout the day! 

When you get good portions of carbs, fruits, veggies, and proteins, your mood and energy will increase because you’re giving your body the nutrients it needs! 

If you spend the day eating a lot of sweets and only carb-filled meals, you will feel more sluggish and tired. 

We have all had those days where we feel the urge to stuff our face with every snack and sweet, but we never feel great after. 

So buy healthier foods from the store and avoid buying/ordering fast food! It’ll make all the difference I promise! 

Plan Your Self Care/Breaks 

You know those days where you just can’t get ANYTHING done because you can’t concentrate or are just not motivated? 

Well, you should plan times for when you want to do self care. A great way to do this is by incorporating it into breaks! 

For example, create a block schedule by scheduling a certain amount of time for your work and then set a certain time for your breaks!

So you could work for 35 minutes and following that take a 20-minute break! 

During this break, you can do whatever your heart pleases which is the ultimate form of self-care!! 

Reading a book is a great way to cope with seasonal affective disorder and is a form of self care!

The great thing about this is that you have complete control over what you set the time for!

So for days that you feel more motivated you could increase your work time to 45 minutes or an hour!

And on days that you are feeling more down, you can schedule work for 10 minutes and do 25-minute breaks! 

Whatever makes you feel good and allows you to get a few things done is the best option! 

Spend Time with Loved Ones

One of the symptoms of SAD was social withdrawal, so if you are feeling less social then I want to reassure you that this is not a tip to force you to socialize. 

But, by being transparent with your loved ones and telling them that you are struggling with the weather change can be a way for them to actively check up on you or plan a day with you! 

Related: 8 Helpful Tips On How To Deal With Social Pressure

This doesn’t have to be left up to them though. I also suggest that you reach out and plan a brunch or a movie day!

Although in the moment you may not feel like meeting up once you actually do, you will have a little fun! 

By doing this you are decreasing stress which will automatically increase your mood, so call up your loved ones and start planning! 

Exercise 

I know this is another cliche, but just like a healthy diet, it has been proven to actually be effective in increasing a person’s mood and boosts levels of serotonin! 

Some people think they have to workout like a body builder in order for exercise to be effective, but in reality, it can be as simple as taking a walk! 

It is suggested to do between 30-60 minutes of exercise at least three times per week to see effective results! 

Or you can always split it up and do 10 minutes a day! 

Some examples of exercise you can do that aren’t super demanding are:

  • Walking
  • Zumba 
  • Light Weightlifting
  • Swimming

If you are looking for more intense exercises you can try: 

  • HIIT Workouts 
  • Powerlifting 
  • Running 

Take Vitamins

With having less sunlight, you are going to experience a decrease in Vitamin D which can lead to a decrease in concentration and emotional health.

Therefore, an option could be to take a vitamin/supplement that will give you the nutrients you’re lacking.

You could also try to take a multivitamin that has a variety of vitamins that could help to maintain your health and potentially boost your mood.  

Before you do so, make sure to consult your doctor to ensure that it is right for you. 

Talk to a Therapist

Whether you feel like you have seasonal affective disorder or not, talking to a therapist is always a great option! 

Similar to writing in a journal, you are able to express how you feel and can address these feelings head on! 

The main difference is that you would be talking to a professional that could help guide you on the right path! 

If you are interested in talking to a therapist, you can always ask your doctor or you can find one through the resources below: 

Remember, if you are experiencing extreme trouble with day to day tasks and are unable to keep up with responsibilities (work, school, bills, etc.), please reach out to your doctor or use the resources above to talk with a therapist. 

If you or someone you know may be struggling with suicidal thoughts, you can call the U.S. National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-TALK (8255) any time of day or night or chat online.

I hope that you found this article helpful and if you or someone you know is dealing with this, I want you to know that you’re not alone! 

Please spread awareness on this by sharing this to your socials and sending it to your loved ones! 

What is a way you love to stay motivated? Let me know in the comments below!

Have you been struggling with being happy and motivated since winter started? If you have, it's completely normal and is commonly known as seasonal affective disorder. Click to learn more about this and to get tips on how you can cope with it!

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