How to Prevent Seasonal Affective Disorder
For many people, winter’s shorter days and colder temperatures go hand in hand with Seasonal affective disorder (SAD). Taking preventative measures in early autumn might help prevent symptoms such as sadness, hopelessness, fatigue, and loss of interest. Try to exercise daily, eat a nutritious diet, and maintain healthy routines. Do your best to spend time outside when the sun’s out, even if it’s cold. Light box therapy could also help prevent and treat SAD. While there are steps you can take on your own, it’s wise to consult a medical professional for feelings of depression or any other mental health concerns.
Making Lifestyle Adjustments
Start making changes in early autumn.If you’ve experienced SAD in the past, take steps to prevent it before you start to experience symptoms. Begin preparing in late summer or early fall, before winter doldrums arrive.
Exercise for at least 30 minutes per day.Exercise outdoors whenever possible, especially if it’s sunny. Take brisk walks or go jogging, take bike rides or, weather permitting, hike a local nature trail. You could also sign up for a spin, yoga, or martial arts class, which would add a beneficial social component to your exercise routine.
- Medical professionals recommend daily exercise for SAD more than any other home preventative measure. If you’re not used to physical activity or have a history of medical issues, talk to your doctor before starting a new exercise routine.
Spend as much time in natural sunlight as possible.Bundle up if it’s cold, and try to get as much sun as possible. For example, try going for walks on your lunch breaks, go ice skating at an outdoor rink, or sip tea or hot cocoa on a sunlit patio.
- Natural sunlight can increase your serotonin and vitamin D levels and lower your melatonin levels. Low serotonin and vitamin D and increased melatonin production are associated with SAD.
- Even if the sky is overcast, enough sunlight breaks through clouds to offer health benefits.
Do at least 1 enjoyable activity per day.Think of activities that you find engaging and pleasurable, and incorporate them into your daily routine. Examples might include hanging out with friends, taking on a new hobby, or volunteering for your favorite cause.
- Doing at least 1 enjoyable or rewarding activity per day can help you maintain a positive mindset.
Increase the amount of light in your home.Use fluorescent bulbs in your home’s light fixtures, and keep any rooms you occupy as bright as possible. Try swapping dark, light-blocking curtains for ones made of sheer, airy fabric. Keep your home clean, and cut down on clutter to make it feel brighter and cozier.
- While standard home lighting isn’t nearly as powerful as a light box or natural sunlight, a bright, airy living space could help lift your spirits.
Eat a healthy diet that includes good sources of vitamin D.While you should maintain a nutritious diet throughout the year, eating healthy is especially important when you’re feeling depressed. Eat lean proteins, such as skinless poultry and seafood, a variety of fruits and veggies, and whole grains. Lower vitamin D levels are associated with SAD, so include dairy products, eggs, and fortified cereals in your diet.
- You could also discuss taking a vitamin D supplement with your doctor. Keep in mind there’s not much evidence that increasing vitamin D intake is effective at treating or preventing SAD.
- Your nutritional requirements depend on your age, sex, and activity level. Learn more about your specific dietary needs at .
Stick to a regular sleep-wake cycle.Do your best to bed and wake up at the same times every day, and try to get between 7 to 9 hours of sleep nightly. If you have trouble getting out of bed, try to offer yourself encouragement and start your day with a positive activity.
- Tell yourself something like, “I have to power to get out of bed and embrace this day.” Focus your will and, when you get out of bed, get dressed and ready for the day immediately.
- Try to keep busy and stick to a morning routine, and don’t give yourself a chance to be tempted to go back to bed.
- If you have trouble getting out bed in the morning, it might be best to get in touch with a mental health professional. Try not to feel hesitant or ashamed about talking to a therapist. Your overall wellbeing is your number 1 priority, and there’s nothing wrong with getting help.
Plan a winter vacation to a sunny location.Time your vacation so that it takes place during the middle of winter. Set aside a few vacation days for your winter getaway. You could fly somewhere sunny, or you could take a road trip. Either way, you'll be able to soak up some rays!
- Start planning your vacation a few months before you go so that you can look forward to it during the first half of winter.
- Choose somewhere that's known for being sunny, even in the winter time. For example, if you live in the United States, you could travel to Miami or Los Angeles.
Consider moving to a sunnier location if SAD greatly impacts your life.Winter can be long in certain areas, and SAD can be a big issue for some people. You deserve to live a healthy, happy life! If SAD is severely impairing your life, then you may want to move to an area with a milder winter.
- For example, if you live in the United States, you could move down south where winters are milder.
Trying Light Therapy
Consult your doctor if your eyes or skin are sensitive to light.A light box could aggravate eye or skin conditions that cause sensitivity to light. Additionally, talk to your doctor if you take any medications that cause sensitivity to light, such as some antibiotics, antipsychotics, and St. John’s Wort.
Purchase a 10,000 lux, UV-free light box marked for SAD therapy.Find a SAD therapy light box online or at most major department stores. Make sure the product you purchase notes that it screens UV light. Lux is a measure of light intensity, and light boxes for SAD must emit at least 10,000 lux.
- For more information, see the Seasonal Affective Disorder Association’s guide to choosing a SAD therapy light box at .
Sit in front of the light box for at least 30 minutes each morning.Read your product’s instructions, and use it as directed. Most products recommend sitting 12 to 18 inches (30 to 46 cm) away the light box for 30 to 60 minutes in the morning. You need to be awake with your eyes open, but you don’t need to stare directly at the light.
- You can read, eat breakfast, or do another morning activity while sitting in front of the light box.
- It might be tough to include 30 minute light therapy sessions into your morning routine. Portable light visors are available, but they’re not as effective as stationary light boxes.
Avoid using light therapy in the evening to prevent sleeping problems.Exposure to bright light before bedtime can make it difficult to fall asleep. You can use the light box throughout the day if morning sessions alone aren’t effective, but avoid using it within 4 to 6 hours of bedtime.
Consulting a Mental Health Professional
Talk to a psychologist if you experience symptoms associated with SAD.It’s best to see a mental health professional for persistent sadness, hopelessness, lack of interest in your favorite activities, low energy, weight gain or loss, and changes in sleep patterns. It’s especially important to get help if your relationships and performance at school or work are affected.
- Get a referral to a mental health professional from your primary doctor or a trusted friend or relative. You could also search online or check your insurance provider’s directory.
- You could also search online using a site like Psychology Today, which allows you to search for mental health professionals in your area. You can even narrow your search to those who have experience with SAD.
- Talk to someone you trust or get immediate help if you experience suicidal thoughts. In the United States, call 1-800-273-TALK (8255) 24 hours a day, 7 days a week.
Begin cognitive behavioral therapy sessions by early autumn.Start seeing a therapist familiar with therapies for SAD at the end of summer or beginning of fall to prepare for winter. Cognitive behavioral therapy is the most recommended and evidence-backed form of therapy for SAD. It focuses on developing specific behaviors and skills to cope with the symptoms of depression.
- Your therapist will help you develop a toolbox of coping skills tailored for your particular symptoms. Examples include breathing techniques, thought monitoring, positive self-talk, keeping a journal, and maintaining an active, positive daily routine.
Ask your healthcare provider if they recommend an antidepressant.Your primary doctor or mental healthcare provider might prescribe an antidepressant if other therapies aren’t effective. While many people benefit from year-round use, your healthcare provider might recommend taking an antidepressant from autumn through winter.
- You might need to try different antidepressants and dosage amounts before you find the best solution.
- Side effects can include nausea or vomiting, weight gain, and lower sex drive. Tell your doctor about these or any new or unusual symptoms, such as worsening depression, suicidal thoughts, agitation, panic attacks, or insomnia.
Video: Can light therapy help with major depression?
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