Most people agree: time changes suck. While modern technology makes it so we don’t necessarily have to go through the effort of physically changing our clocks, time shifts are hard on our bodies and on our mental health. Seasonal Affective Disorder is real, and it can be a challenge to manage.
This time change in particular is a bit easier in the mornings, but it also means that it gets dark way earlier. Gone are the summer days of 9 pm sunsets, now our 6pm darkness is about to become 5 pm darkness. And it’s going to get dark earlier and earlier until we hit the solstice.
And it’s not just you. Research shows that our pets feel the time change and can get seasonal depression too. The usual fix of “get out and get some sun” is great for those who live in LA or San Diego- not that y’all Southern California folks can’t get SAD as well- but it’s harder for those of us who live on the gray/foggy/rainy side.
What Actually Helps Seasonal Affective Disorder
1. Know Yourself, Learn Your Patterns
As we learn from the Alaskans, Canadians, and Nordic folks who live in more extreme darkness, SAD is a routine part of life. One key factor in managing your seasonal mood shifts is first to acknowledge that they happen and plan in advance to expect them. When you’re in denial about how the seasons affect you, the subtle changes eventually culminate in a larger depression that can blindside you. Maybe your SAD is extreme and maybe it’s mild, but either way it really helps to learn how you personally react to the time change and the early darkness.
2. Try a Sun Lamp and Supplement (if you need to)
I know this is typically top of the advice for managing SAD, but that’s because it works for most people. Supplement your space with additional light to help you get up in the morning and keep things bright when it’s dark at 3 or 4 pm.
If you live up north where you get a lot more darkness and cloud cover, you may also benefit from supplementing with Vitamin D if you are deficient. To diagnose a vitamin deficiency, work with your doctor to get blood tests to track your vitamin levels over time. These seasonal deficiencies occur in a minority of people, but if you notice strong seasonal shifts, you may be one of the lucky few.
3. Give Yourself Permission to Enjoy Good Weather
If you’re able, give yourself permission to call off work or take an extended lunch on winter days where the sun is out and the weather is pleasant. There’s nothing quite as depressing as watching a nice day go by out the window only to get off work in the dark. If you’re able, consider switching your work hours so you’re able to spend more of the daylight going out as you want. And if you’re not able to change your hours, make sure you’re taking your breaks and spending your break times outdoors or in a bright space indoors.
Let yourself enjoy winter activities that you don’t get to do at other times of year. Get the fancy candles, go out sledding, and let your inner child pretend you’re a dragon breathing fire when you go on a walk and you can see your breath. Have hearty stews and seasonal foods, light a fire, and read a warm cozy book. Wear the fun holiday sweaters, get yourself fuzzy slippers, and break out the mulled cider.
4. Stay Active and Social
Many of us tend to go into hibernation mode in the winter. It’s easier to go out with friends after work in the summer, but in the winter when it’s dark and possibly rainy or snowy, it takes a lot more effort to pull yourself up and out.
And whether you get your activity outdoors, indoors, or at a gym, keep it up. If the weather keeps you inside, find an alternative instead of doing nothing. While a break is nice, winter activity can help your mood and energy when you’re feeling blah.
Do You Need Help Managing Your Seasonal Affective Disorder?
Therapy can help you observe patterns, find effective ways to manage your moods, and get through the winter season. If you know you tend to have seasonal mood changes, get ahead of the trend as soon as you can. It is possible to navigate your seasonal depression without letting it spiral down into darkness. If you’re in California and you’re ready to manage your SAD with online therapy focused on helping you map your moods, contact me for a free consultation. Learn more about me here and learn about ACT, a proven method to manage seasonal mood changes, here.