The end of summer and beginning of fall is a difficult time for people who suffer from Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD). Shorter days, less sunlight and decreased temperatures can wreak havoc on your body and brain, causing heightened feelings of irritability, fatigue and depression.
SAD tends to worsen as fall and winter progress, and it can be tough to get out of your slump. Fortunately, if you know that SAD is lurking around the corner, there are a few ways you can get ahead and fight back.
Before you can prepare for SAD, you must understand why it occurs. Experts believe feelings of seasonal depression are caused by fluctuations of hormones that are largely dictated by the amount of sunlight you receive. Because the days are shorter in the winter in the northern hemisphere, your exposure to sunlight is reduced.
When these hormones are disrupted, your sleep and mood can suffer, and legitimate feelings of depression can appear or worsen during this time. A variety of symptoms may become apparent, including:
- Excessive sleepiness
- Difficulty concentrating
Additionally, winter weather is likely to change your normal routine, forcing you to stay inside and isolating you from social situations more than in summer. These things can contribute to worsened symptoms.
You may feel alone in this, but the reality is that millions of people around the world experience similar problems during this time of the year.
Can you really prepare for SAD?
It’s almost impossible to completely prevent the effects of SAD during fall and winter. However, if you know that SAD affects you harshly year after year, there are ways you can take charge of your health and happiness and set up a plan ahead of time.
Try these things to get a jumpstart on your mental health and help minimize SAD symptoms in the coming months.
Get a light box
A lack of sunlight is what really drives SAD symptoms, so finding ways to increase sun exposure is really important. Beyond ensuring your schedule allows for the greatest amount of light exposure (including taking walks in the morning and lunches outside), you may find success by using a specialized light box or luxe lighting.
Sitting in front of a light box each day exposes you to specialized types of light for a short period of time. This may help regulate your vitamin D and hormone levels. Additionally, using 10,000 lux lighting systems in your home may help you feel better because these systems mimic daylight.
Stock up on vitamin D3 supplements
Vitamin D is converted to a hormone by your body and is instrumental in regulating important feel-good neurotransmitters in your brain, including serotonin, dopamine and oxytocin. All three of these neurotransmitters play a major role in mood stabilization, so if your vitamin D intake is off, your mood will be too.
Because sunlight is our most potent form of vitamin D, your levels are likely to get thrown off when the winter gloom rolls around. To get ahead of this, purchase vitamin D3 supplements so you’re ready to maintain adequate levels when sunlight is rare.
Start an exercise routine now
Exercise has been proven to improve feelings of depression and reduce stress by releasing “happy hormones” like endorphins. Unfortunately, getting to the gym regularly when you’re experiencing SAD symptoms can be extremely difficult, particularly if you’re not used to going.
Starting an exercise routine now, before SAD symptoms become a regular occurrence, may help you stick with your workouts once late fall and winter appear.
Inquire about therapy and make a plan
People who know that SAD is around the corner have somewhat of an advantage in preparing for it, since they are more likely to be familiar with their symptoms and when things might get really bad for them. If you know what is coming, take time now to visit a therapist, discuss your symptoms and get diagnosed with SAD.
Then, work with your therapist to create a plan for managing your depression over the next few months. A mental health professional is the best person to help you learn strategies for coping with depressive feelings, examine things that may be making your SAD symptoms worse and generate ways to improve your mood and energy levels to get you through winter as easily as possible.
If or when SAD symptoms begin to present themselves, try to maintain your routines as much as possible, including a healthy diet, exercise, sleep and socialization. However, know that slipping out of these routines is normal and understandable during this period, so be sure to give yourself time to rest, recuperate and do things you enjoy to relieve stress and take the pressure off.