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Seasonal affective disorder (SAD) can happen when days become shorter and cold winter weather prevents you from being active or socializing. As the National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH) explains, SAD is a type of depression that can affect everything from your mood to energy levels and sleep quality to daily behaviors. While SAD winter depression is common, there are things you can do to help you reset and live life to the fullest—with or without the help of a professional like those at Positive Reset Mental Health Clinic.

Here’s what you need to know about depression in winter and tips to avoid these seasonally triggered symptoms.

What Are Common Winter Depression Symptoms?

SAD depression symptoms are the same as you would experience with other types of depression. However, they are unique in that they occur with a seasonal pattern. For winter depression, you may have the following symptoms for several months:

  • Feeling depressed almost every day and for most of the day
  • Having low energy or feeling tired throughout the day
  • Changes to your appetite and weight gain
  • Disruption of sleeping patterns, including sleeping too much
  • Social withdrawal
  • Difficulty concentrating and staying focused
  • Having thoughts of suicide

Who is Most At-Risk for Developing Seasonal Affective Disorder?

NIMH shares that SAD winter symptoms are more likely to develop in women than men and those who live further north where daylight hours are shorter than in regions closer to the equator. It is also more common for individuals with depressive, bipolar, or mental disorders to experience SAD, including winter depression. Additionally, you may be more at risk of depression during the winter if you have family members with mental illnesses.

However, even those with no risk factors for SAD can also suffer from winter depression. According to NIMH, some scientists point to reduced serotonin and increased melatonin levels as possible causes of SAD. Vitamin D deficiencies may also affect the onset of seasonal depressive symptoms.

How to Reset When Experiencing Seasonal Depression Winter Symptoms

If you’re feeling down during the winter months and having a hard time coping with depression, here are seven ways to ease SAD symptoms and beat the cold weather blues:

1. Talk to a Mental Health Professional

The first and possibly most important thing you can do to boost your mood and avoid winter depression is to talk to a mental health expert. A professional will help you work through your symptoms and offer different therapies based on your psychiatric evaluation. Discussing the challenges you’re experiencing with a licensed counselor or psychiatrist can confirm your diagnosis and improve your mental health.

2. Consider Light Therapy

Winter can be brutal on the natural circadian rhythm, which is our body’s internal clock that regulates sleep/wake cycles. As Mayo Clinic explains, reduced exposure to sunlight when the days become shorter in the winter can throw off our biological clocks, which disrupts sleep cycles and may cause depression.

Light therapy is one way to combat this circadian rhythm disturbance by producing light similar to natural sunlight. Exposing yourself to this light can mimic the effects of getting some sunshine. Different light boxes and dawn simulators on the market may help manage SAD symptoms and give you the boost you need to stay on top of your mental health. Just be sure to discuss it with your doctor to see if it’s a good option.

3. Stay Socially Active

Whatever social activities bring you enjoyment should stay on your calendar throughout the winter months. While some things may be less accessible when it’s cold, you still want to make an effort to have regular in-person interactions with friends and family. Research has shown that isolation is a significant risk factor for developing depression and anxiety, making it crucial to stay socially active in the winter to avoid SAD.

4. Stick to an Exercise Routine

Being physically active is another way to combat low winter moods. Exercise is often one of the best ways to reduce your risk of any depressive disorder, including SAD, and keep your mental health on track. Although you may not have access to some outdoor activities, do your best to stick to a routine involving going to the gym or completing instructional fitness videos at home.

5. Try to Get Some Sunlight

When the weather allows it, you should get as much natural sunlight as possible in the winter. While light therapy and sun lamps may help lessen SAD symptoms, nothing is as good as the real thing. Getting outdoors and soaking up the sunshine can help boost your mood and energy levels if you’re feeling the effects of seasonal depression.

6. Focus on Balanced Nutrition

Eating healthy and focusing on key nutritional factors can help you get through the long months of winter depression. In particular, getting enough vitamin D may be extremely beneficial to fighting off SAD symptoms. In addition, Harvard Health recommends getting more vegetables, fruits, whole grains, and lean protein to help with depression. Likewise, you should avoid sugars and processed foods to kick those winter woes to the curb.

7. Think About Antidepressants

When experiencing SAD symptoms beyond a simple seasonal funk, you must get the help you need to stay healthy and stable. Prescription antidepressants may help you alleviate your SAD symptoms and prevent them from escalating to serious depression or other mental health disorders.

Conclusion

Although winter depression is manageable, treatments are not the same for every individual. Working with a professional mental health expert to diagnose your symptoms and confirm SAD is vital to taking the right steps to address and treat the issue. While you may benefit from combining these tips and counseling, another person may find cognitive behavioral therapy and medication the best approach. In any case, you should never hesitate to contact us at Positive Reset Mental Health Clinic and seek individual therapy or other treatments if you have seasonal depressive feelings.