Despite living in Southern California where the average temperature doesn’t often dip below 65°, SAD insists on paying me a visit each year like an anxiously awaited guest. Like clockwork each fall, the drastic drop in daylight brings along a general funk and fatigue that runs deeper than a classic case of the winter blues. Sound familiar? Chances are you know the feeling.
Seasonal affective disorder, or SAD, is a form of recurrent depression that begins and ends around the same time each year and is estimated to affect around 10 million Americans. SAD is four times more common in women than in men, with an average onset estimated to be between the age of 18 and 30.
While the specific cause of seasonal affective disorder remains unknown, disruptions to your circadian rhythm, a drop in serotonin and Vitamin D and an increase in melatonin thanks to shorter days and less sunlight are known factors that may play a role in triggering SAD. Add in seasonal hormonal fluctuations shown to negatively impact your body’s stress response system, and you’ve got a recipe for feeling meh and moody.
My own personal brand of SAD symptoms comes in the form of fatigue, anxiety, irritability, sleep issues, difficulty concentrating, carb cravings, lack of interest in daily activities, social withdrawal and an overall feeling of heaviness, both emotionally and physically. I don’t really care to do much of anything, even getting annoyed when well-meaning friends so much as attempt to make plans. Ain’t nobody got energy for that! My creative spark feels snuffed out, and I find myself far less productive throughout winter months despite the lack of warm weather distractions.
While the first few years of seasonal depression came on as an unexpected ambush, acknowledging that I’m particularly sensitive to SAD has helped me head into winter months feeling better prepared. Several go-arounds later, I’m now familiar enough to know what to expect and more successfully intercept the symptoms as they sneak up!
In the spirit of sharing and bringing conversations surrounding mental health to light, I’ve rounded up my personal tried-and-true SAD relief strategy below. Although what works for me may not work quite the same for you, you might consider incorporating some of these hacks and habits into your own toolkit to help keep your mood and motivation steady throughout the year.
7 ways to beat the symptoms of seasonal affective disorder (SAD):
1. Blue Light Therapy
Arguably the most common way to treat SAD, blue light therapy boxes have been proven to lessen symptoms of SAD and can help to boost your mood and energy throughout the gloomy winter months. Even without a harsh winter, I’ve found that boosting light exposure truly warms up my mood! Word to the wise: As much as I sometimes crave a little evening boost, I’ve found it can keep me wide awake and buzzing way past a healthy bedtime – so I stick with morning use.
2. Infrared Sauna
Sweat it out at the sauna! Nothing beats wrapping up in the HigherDOSE Sauna Blanket for a relaxing sweat sesh at the end of the day – while doing a guided meditation or catching up on my podcast queue. Infrared is known to trigger your brain’s happiness chemicals with soothing, yet stimulating heat for a totally rejuvenating experience… and I’ll personally attest.
3. Outside Walks
Although exercise tends to become the absolute last thing I want to do in the midst of winter, it’s arguably the time of year we all need it most! Regular exercise boosts serotonin and other feel-good brain chemicals, making it a powerful defence against SAD. I try my best to make it to Pilates, but compromise with regular afternoon or sunset walks to ensure I’m getting my body moving while increasing exposure to natural sunlight and crisp, fresh air. Bonus: These gentle walks also double as a form of earthing and active meditation.
4. Power Playlists
Never underestimate the power of music to lift your mood! Put together an intentional playlist or two full of your favorite mood-boosting tunes and consider it your custom SAD soundtrack. I’m personally partial to energizing girl power anthems – think Dua Lipa, Lorde and HAIM – but you do you.
5. Sleep Prioritization
Not especially difficult since SAD leaves me fatigued AF with absolutely no desire to leave the house after 6 PM, although I do need to be more mindful about my bedtime routine during the cold, winter months. I use this as a time to clean up my sleep hygiene and not only get under the covers on time but keep my computer and phone out of bed to prevent mindless scrolling as well. On that note…
6. Intentional Media Consumption
More time tucked up inside by the heater means more time for consuming media – social, podcasts, articles, and the like… and more time for endless, mindless scrolling (and it’s negative side effects). When I find myself deep in a social media hole, I shift focus back to center myself and decide how I want to use this time more mindfully, often switching to a book, experimenting with healthy dessert recipes or hitting up a friend to hang out.
7. Write it Out
I find keeping a journal to be one of the most effective mental health and creativity tools throughout the year, but especially when processing seasonal dips in mood. On top of that, research shows that gratitude makes you a healthier, happier and more productive human. Get it all out on paper, and try starting each journal entry with three things you’re grateful for!