Winter Blues: Ways to prevent and manage seasonal affective disorder (SAD)

Janet Johnson-Yosgott,Agency on Aging \ Area 4 Health Promotion Instructor

Know the risk factors

Being aware of the risk of developing seasonal affective disorder (SAD) helps you be more proactive and notice symptoms sooner. SAD is more common in women than men. And people with a family history or personal experience with depression may also be at increased risk. Low levels of vitamin D have also been found in people with SAD. Scientists suspect that vitamin D plays an important part in regulating serotonin levels.

Increase light exposure

One of the first steps in preventing and managing seasonal affective disorder symptoms is to get more exposure to natural light.

Suggestions for increasing natural light exposure

  • Opening window coverings to allow more sunlight into the home
  • Spending most of the time in the brightest rooms of the home
  • Getting outside in the sun every day – that could mean a 10-minute walk or just getting out to the porch or backyard

Light therapy is another effective way to increase light exposure without having to go outdoors. This is especially helpful for people with mobility issues or when severe weather forces everyone to stay inside for days or weeks.

Get regular physical activity

Regular exercise and other types of physical activity reduce overall stress and anxiety, which helps to reduce SAD symptoms. Physical activity also helps tire the body, which improves sleep quality and duration. Exercise can also build muscle strength and improve balance, which helps reduce fall risk in older adults.

Seek assistance

If you are concerned that you may have seasonal depression, do not hesitate to talk to the doctor. Your doctor will be able to accurately diagnose the cause of the symptoms and make recommendations that will help you feel better. If symptoms are caused by SAD, they may recommend lifestyle changes to reduce stress, light therapy, appropriate medications, or therapy or counseling.

Take up a relaxation

practice Yoga, mindfulness, meditation, and deep breathing can help reduce overall levels of stress.

Make leisure and contemplation a priority

We can all be guilty of being “too busy” to take some down time, but leisure time is a necessity for emotional and mental health. Take some time to relax, contemplate, and pay attention to the positive things as you go about your day — even the small things. Write them down if you can because they can be easy to forget. Then reflect on them later if your mood needs a boost.

Eat a brain-healthy diet to support strong mental health

Foods that can support your mood include fatty fish rich in omega-3s, nuts (walnuts, almonds, cashews, and peanuts), avocados, beans, leafy greens (spinach, kale, and brussels sprouts), and fresh fruit such as blueberries.

Don’t skimp on sleep

It matters more than you think. Sleep is our body and mind’s best way to recharge and rejuvenate. One way to get sleep better is to take a break from the stimulation of screens — TV, phones, tablets, or computers — in the hours before bedtime. Consider reading or listening to relaxing music instead.

Find purpose and meaning

This is different for everyone but finding purpose in your day is a key factor in good mental health. You might try one of the following:

  • Engage in work that makes you feel useful
  • Invest in relationships and spend quality time with people who matter to you
  • Volunteer, which can help enrich your life and make you happier
  • Care for others, which can be as rewarding and meaningful as it is challenging
  • Think of one good dead or gesture to do each day

Additional information on Seasonal Affective Disorder