Feeling SAD This Fall? Strategies for Fighting Seasonal Depression

It was raining this morning when I woke up.

“Oh god, it’s starting,” I groaned to myself, instantly feeling depressed.

I live in the Pacific Northwest.  It essentially rains every day from mid-September through mid-June, sometimes into July. Sometimes we will go a week or longer without a single glimpse of the sun.  It gets so bad that when we hit that one random sunny day in spring, literally every person in the city stumbles outside, rubbing their eyes against the glare like when the kids escape their underground prison in Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom.

A lot of people here like the rain but I’m not a fan.  Clearly, I’m living in the wrong place, that’s why I’m moving to Hawaii when I retire.  But that’s a few years off, so my goal today was to create a plan to minimize seasonal depression during the rainy months.

Seasonal depression is more than just the “winter blues”, it’s actually a documented type of depression  called Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD).  People who struggle with SAD tend to feel it coming on the same time every year, typically in the fall when the weather gets colder and the days get shorter.

SAD is thought to be caused by decreased sunlight interfering with circadian rhythm, causing a drop in serotonin and vitamin D levels, and an increase in melatonin levels. SAD is more common in females, teens, people with family or personal history of depression, and people living  farther away from the equator where there’s shorter days during the winter.

People with SAD may experience a variety of symptoms including feeling depressed, losing interest in regular activities, having low energy, sleep disturbances, changes in appetite or weight, extreme fatigue, craving carbohydrates, anxiety, a sense of hopelessness and difficulty concentrating.

So, what should you do when you feel SAD coming your way?

First, talk to your doctor to see if medication or psychotherapy might be helpful.  But in most cases,  there are other options to help manage the symptoms of SAD and get through the winter, including:

  • Light therapy: Light boxes are an effective tool to help your body make up for lost sunlight.
  • Get outside: Step away from the Netflix and spend as much time outside as much as you can when the sun is shining.
  • Vitamin D: Keeping your vitamin D levels high will help off-set depression and has a host of other benefits for other body systems.
  • Mindful movement: Practices like yoga and tai chi have been shown as effective in reducing symptoms of depression.
  • Stress management: A regular mindfulness-based meditation practice or guided imagery can help stabilize your mood.
  • Get some exercise: It can be hard to get out of the house during the gloomy months but breaking a sweat does wonders for your outlook on life.
  • Maintain a healthy diet: Resist those carb cravings and load up with vegetables, lean protein, healthy fats and slower digesting carbs.
  • Art or Music therapy: Grab an adult coloring book, sing in the shower, find beauty in art.

Here’s hoping that some preventative measures keep your winter blues away.

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