Daylight savings brings less hours of direct sunlight and longer nights for all of us in the Pacific Northwest. These seasonal changes can alter your body's natural circadian rhythm, leading to changes in your mood and energy. Find out some common symptoms of Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD), and most importantly, how to best prepare yourself for the upcoming winter months.
Symptoms of Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD):
Approximately 3% of Americans struggle with SAD, however it's estimated that up to 14% of Americans struggle with mild seasonal depression at some point in their lives. Women and young adults are more likely to be affected by Seasonal Affective Disorder. Unsurprisingly, the Pacific Northwest and countries farther away from the equator report higher cases.
Tips to Help Manage Seasonal Depression
One of the best ways to manage seasonal depression is to plan ahead. With the changing leaves and fall weather, planning weekly activities or events to nudge you out of the house will give you something to look forward to. From planning a date night once a week to organizing a board-game night with your friend group every Thursday night, the possibilities are endless. Engaging in clubs, hobbies, or community service can beat back the winter blues and give yourself a sense of purpose outside of work hours. Forming these habits in the fall will make it easier to continue in the winter months rather than starting a new habit or activity from scratch.
Remaining active by incorporating daily exercise into your routine is a great option for managing seasonal depression. Working out releases endorphins and dopamine, which can reduce stress, boost self-esteem and improve mood. Research shows that one hour of walking or other mild exercise can have the same effectiveness as one hour of light therapy.
If leaving the house is inaccessible to you or feels too daunting, you can make plans virtually from the comfort of your home. Scheduling a family Facetime call every Sunday night or signing up for an online book club via Zoom can bring you a sense of community and belonging.
Light therapy—equipment placed in the home that emits bright light at the level of natural outdoor light shortly after sunrise—is the "primary, best-investigated, and most successful intervention." It is a home-based treatment, done immediately upon getting out of bed. Not all light is created equal! Nighttime light exposure from your smartphone, tablet or video games can make it harder to fall asleep and reduce your quality REM-sleep. Starting your day with light therapy and limiting blue light exposure at least one hour before bedtime has been studied to help improve focus during the day and quality of sleep at night.
Many of us living in the Pacific Northwest are deficient in Vitamin D, especially those with winter-pattern SAD. While it is a cost-effective and relatively easy change, the research is still inconclusive on how effective the treatment is for Seasonal Affective Disorder. You can purchase Vitamin D supplements over-the-counter both online or in-person, but be sure to consult your primary care provider before introducing Vitamin D supplements into your daily routine.
Seeking Treatment for Seasonal Affective Disorder
If cold weather and long winter nights are significantly impacting your day-to-day life, there is help available. Speaking with a counselor or therapist can help you form a personalized treatment plan and provide you with tools to feel relief. Reach out to one of our licensed therapists to get started today.