Have you ever wondered how to cope with seasonal depression or what some call seasonal affective disorder? I know I have in the past and still do to a certain extent to this day. Seasonal depression is a serious mental health condition. It could benefit from certain strategies and coping mechanisms one yea. Then the next year it could need something completely different in the following years. Either way, it is helpful to know how to deal with seasonal depression disorder.
**Disclaimer: I am not a licensed mental health care professional. This blog post is not intended or implied to be a substitute for professional medical or mental health advice, diagnosis, or treatment. This post is intended to be my personal opinion on how to cope with seasonal depression.
What Is Seasonal Depression?
Seasonal depression, also known as a seasonal affective disorder or ” the winter blues “, is a period of time when many people do not feel like their normal selves due to changes or problems with their mood. It is a particular mood disorder that is a subtype of depression or bipolar disorder. In some major cases, it can affect day-to-day life activities and functions.
What Are The Main Causes of Seasonal Depression?
Seasonal depression (SAD) has been highly associated with changes in the seasons, moving from summer into the fall and winter months. These months are also usually associated with daylight savings time which means less sunlight and the days get incredibly shorter. Less sunlight may reduce an individual’s serotonin levels which is a neurotransmitter that helps regulate mood. Research has shown that lower levels of serotonin have been correlated with increased feelings of depression. Serotonin activity takes an additional hard hit due to increased vitamin D deficiencies in the colder months of the fall and winter. With less sunlight, the body produces less vitamin D.
In addition with a lack of sunlight in the fall and winter months, many people experience a shift in their internal clocks or circadian rhythm. Such a shift can trigger an imbalance in sleep schedules, moods, and overall hormones. Speaking of hormones, some research findings suggest less sunlight overstimulates the production of melatonin in some people which is why they feel sluggish in the fall and winter months.
Signs & Symptoms of Seasonal Depression
The American Psychiatric Association considers SAD to be one of many major depressive disorders with a pattern throughout the seasons. Most symptoms normally start in the late fall or the early winter months. In most cases, seasonal affective disorder symptoms go away in the spring and or summer. However, some people may begin to not feel like themselves when spring or summer arrives. Those individuals experience summer-pattern SAD which is actually less common.
Signs and symptoms of seasonal depression might include but are not limited to the following:
- Feeling of sadness or emptiness most of the day or nearly every day
- Hopeless, worthless, or guilty feelings
- Loss of interest or pleasure in activities you enjoy
- Lack of energy or increased fatigue
- Inability to concentrate, make decisions, or remember details
- Difficulty getting quality sleep
- Irritability and agitation
- Withdrawal from family and friends
- Changes in appetite
- Thoughts of death or not wanting to live
Fall and Winter SAD Symptoms
- Increased cravings
- Weight Gain
Spring and Summer SAD Symptoms
- Weight Loss
How Common Is Seasonal Depression?
Seasonal Depression is one of many mental health conditions that affects about 4 to 6 percent of people in the United States. Of course, no two people have the same type of experience with this mood disorder. However, by listening to or reading about other people’s stories and experiences with seasonal depression, you may be able to learn how to cope with seasonal depression in your own way.
My Past Personal Experiences with Seasonal Depression
What Is This Thing Happening To Me?
As far as my story goes, I began to not feel like myself after my family and I moved to Charlotte in 2019. In November 2019 I started to not feel like my usual self during the second week of November. That was around the time that daylight savings time ended. I began to experience more days where it seemed like I was completely moving in slow motion. I just moved through the motions of my responsibilities as a mom and wife in a new city where I did not know many people. It did not feel as though I was actually living in those moments. My energy felt as though it had been slowly but surely decreasing each day throughout November.
Heavy with concern for my mental well-being, I set an emergency sick appointment with my general health care provider. I explained the increase in major depressive episodes, negative thoughts, and other unwanted symptoms. After a series of screening questions, I ended up getting an official diagnosis of seasonal affective disorder. Granted I was already managing life with major depression, anxiety, and post traumatic stress disorder. I was completely taken aback at the diagnosis of yet another mental health challenge. Honestly, I was going to have to learn how to cope with seasonal depression along with the other mental health problems I was battling.
Pushing Past The Heaviness
By early December, I went to sleep at the end of the day so quickly that I hardly remember how I got into bed. As a result, I became less driven to get out of bed in the mornings, especially when the days were overcast. I would wake up for the next month and a half throughout January and February either slightly or extremely irritated. Distraught even though I had gotten plenty of sleep. However, over the course of mid-February through late March some mornings were better than others when the sun shined through my windows. I found myself getting better and not feeling so excessively lethargic by March 2020.
Once I learned about what I would be likely going through for the foreseeable fall and winter months, I took the initiative to research and learn how to cope with seasonal depression. Of course, my doctor provided me with further information about my additional mental health condition. Yet I decided to dig deeper so that I could prepare myself for the next fall/winter season. I learned about the various ways I could naturally treat SAD. The methods that stood out to me the most were increasing my time in the natural sunlight, using a bright light therapy lamp, and journaling. I made it a major goal to use each one as much as I possibly could before the next fall/winter season began.
Taking On The Next Season
That next fall/winter season came quicker than I thought it would considering the COVID-19 pandemic had started in March 2020. As soon as daylight savings ended, for many days ahead I was a hard book to read. But for the sake of my kids, I did my best to cover up the tumultuous feelings I was experiencing.
Once again seasonal depression symptoms made me feel like I was moving in slow motion. I did not have the necessary energy to do what I needed to do for the people I cared about, which included myself. I got outside in the natural sunlight as much as I could to try to increase my energy. My husband knew when I was overcome with depression and anxiety. He did everything he possibly could to help me so I could care for myself and our young kids. My husband would call to check in on me throughout each day from November 2020 to March 2021. Yet, sometimes the load got to be overwhelming.
I Didn’t Even Think This Was Possible
As a newbie blogger, content creator, and influencer, I had an extensive list of to-do’s. I wrote about all of the responsibilities and then some in my journal as much as I could. I had to take care of a two-year-old and help my virtual kindergartner. Those responsibilities made it hard for me to handle stress which made me more agitated during that fall/winter season. I found the best way to cope with seasonal depression over those months was to have several good cries. All the crying helps to reduce my already crippling feelings of guilt and hopelessness until March 2021.
After two years, I was certain that I would know how to cope with seasonal depression better for the ‘21- ‘22 fall/winter season. I knew about various forms of natural treatments for seasonal depression. So I assumed that by implementing these various forms of treatment more often than I did the season before, I would not have another rough and draining experience with seasonal depression. I also decided to add another form of treatment to help prevent depressive episodes even more. I was determined more than ever to find the right treatments for seasonal affective disorder.
Honestly, I just couldn’t even imagine things getting any worse. Like come on, I had lived in Charlotte for nearly 3 years. Collectively my husband and I both thought that after being in the city for so long my body would finally adjust. Well, to burst my bubble – things unfortunately did get worse that third year.
More Pressure Being Added
Along with the feelings of sadness, lack of energy, and anxiety, I started having mood swings. Yeah, I was still partaking in a good cry to ease my stress from day to day but there was something particularly odd about the levels of my mood. I would start the morning feeling completely sluggish and drained like I hadn’t gotten any sleep at all. That’s because I didn’t get any. I slowly started feeling restless at night and couldn’t get to sleep right away. Some nights found myself staying up until like 2 or 3:00 a.m. The lack of sleep made it hard for me to focus on a lot of tasks I had to do during the day. To overcompensate for my lack of energy, I overate at lunchtime as a way to cope with seasonal depression. Right after lunch, my mood would take a dramatic turn
By the late afternoon, I was full of energy and felt as if I could conquer the remainder of my day. The feelings from earlier in the day did a 180-degree turn. A manic rush would come over me. By 2 p.m., I would push to complete a major amount of tasks from my to-do list and things that I had failed to do the day before. At times, I might have added even more things to complete or the evening just to prove to myself that I wasn’t truly overwhelmed with stress. My energy level went up to a level that caused me to have concerns about my thoughts. I was still writing in my journal and sitting in front of my light therapy lamp right after I got my kids in bed nearly every evening.
My Support Through All The Good and Bad Days
I would often show my husband what I wrote down in my journal when I started to get ready for bed myself. My husband was truly concerned about my mental health after reading some of my journal entries. He held me close many nights to do breathing exercises with me to make sure I didn’t go overboard. Needless to say, if I did go overboard, I would have crying spells for about 20 minutes to cope with seasonal depression. Thankfully my husband was my main source of support during those crying spells. On the nights when my husband comforted me, I was able to fall asleep with ease. Otherwise, I stayed up from the pressing discomfort of insomnia.
Thankfully my husband was my main source of support if I had a mental breakdown. Unfortunately, I did end up having a nervous breakdown that year. However, I have since learned how to overcome a mental breakdown with the help of my therapist and personal coping mechanisms.
No More Time To Weather Depression: It’s Time To Fight Back
Eventually, I realized that seasonal affective disorder was going to be a part of my life going forward. As a woman already managing life with depression and anxiety, I sat in disbelief thinking about how both would get worse during the cooler months. What really caught me off guard was not knowing how many years it might actually last. That thought struck fear in me as I had recovered from seasonal depression once again. As I approached the summer of 2022, I knew I had to come up with better forms of treatment for seasonal depression. It was incredibly serious to me to find forms of SAD treatment that would allow me to live my life to the fullest, be able to function for myself, and the benefit of my family.
The Methods I Use For Seasonal Depression Treatment
After battling seasonal affective disorder for three years, I knew I had to do more to find better ways of coping with seasonal depression. Since my last terrible season of symptoms in 2021-2022, I have worked diligently towards trying more effective methods of seasonal depression help. With plenty of trial and error over the course of the past couple of years, I have incorporated various treatment options into my life that helped me manage seasonal affective disorder.
1. Check In With My Mental Health Practitioner
Since being diagnosed with seasonal affective disorder, it has been a necessary part of my treatment to do yearly check-ins with my mental health practitioner. He does a screening every year two weeks into November. My practitioner is able to identify if I am experiencing SAD symptoms or more extreme depressive symptoms.
With my depressive symptoms, anxiety, and post-traumatic stress disorder likely to increase, I put myself in a space to not take on as much as I normally would. It is important that I finish one task before starting another. I also limit myself to three or four major tasks a day which I complete based upon a level of importance. If something doesn’t get accomplished on a set day, I give myself grace for being able to do as much as possible that day. Plus I understand that not every day will be perfect nor will my mood. I expect each day to be a clean slate where my feelings will get better with time.
3. Take Medication
As someone who has tried to manage mental illness with and without antidepressants, I know I can not risk taking on seasonal depression without medication. Prescription selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors are helpful in overcoming seasonal affective disorder. As long as I don’t combine them with other potentially harmful drugs then they work to keep many of the symptoms I have suffered from in the past to a minimum.
4. Stick To a Schedule
Sticking to a strict mandatory schedule is critical to coping with seasonal depression. There is no way I could properly function without a routine during the fall and winter months. Having a routine/ schedule allows me to not get overwhelmed and so easily agitated. I know what to expect for each day of the week when it comes to my morning routine, my sleep schedule, and even down to what time I eat.
5. Exercise Regularly
Physical movement is one of my favorite methods to help with seasonal affective disorder. Exercise does so much more than help me cope with seasonal depression. Every time I exercise my mind escapes to the place where I solely focus on my breath work, my strength, and movement form. It is truly one of the best things I could have ever done to help me in my overall mental health journey. Due to the cold and generally overcast weather, I tend to break a sweat mainly at home.
6. Reduce Alcohol Consumption
Drinking less alcohol or eliminating it altogether is a crucial part of overcoming seasonal depression. It’s important not to drink it because of the fact that I take medication to help shift my chemical imbalance. I know several people in my extended family who love to make spirited festive drinks around the holidays. I choose to stay away from consuming alcohol because I know it will only lead to far worse complications.
7. Meet With My Therapist
During the fall and winter months, I increase the amount of times I meet with my therapist each month. Cognitive behavioral therapy is the main approach she takes during each session. Throughout the cooler months, I learned how to cope with seasonal affective disorder in various ways. I also learned how to identify and change negative thoughts, how to manage stress, and dedicate scheduled time for myself.
8. Eat A Healthy & Nutritious Diet
The saying you are what you eat you never really meant anything to me until I started gaining weight within the first few months of moving to Charlotte. Instead of trying to cut calories, I started changing what I actually ate for my main three meals out of the day. The weight shed off significantly. The foods that I focused on eating also helped me maintain a much-needed amount of energy. A more health-conscious diet has allowed me to tackle my demanding schedule not only in the fall and winter but year-round as well.
9. Get Outside In The Sun
Even though I’m a true homebody, it has been a crucial must for me to get outside for 30 to 45 minutes when the sun is beaming. Spending time outside is a known method that helps to ease symptoms of seasonal depression. A walk outside on those bright days does wonders for my mood. When I’m indoors, I keep the blinds open to let in as much natural sunlight as possible.
10. Increase Vitamin D Intake
After my drive to fight back, I had blood work done in June 2022. The results showed significantly low levels of vitamin D. My general practitioner knew that a vitamin D deficiency could have easily increased my risk for SAD. She immediately suggested that I start taking vitamin D supplements. Although health experts aren’t sure supplements can relieve symptoms, I have willingly tried them as an additional form of treatment to cope with seasonal depression.
11. Practice Light Therapy
Light therapy was one of the very first forms of treatment that I used to help me cope with seasonal depression back in 2019. Nowadays I sit in front of my light box after my morning workouts. I am quick to start using light therapy when the sun isn’t particularly shining that bright on those overcast days. These devices emit light that mimics sunshine at different wavelengths.
12. Release My Emotions
Partaking in a release of my emotions is an important way to help me manage seasonal affective disorder. A good cry takes a lot of the pressure off from the many hats that I wear. In all transparency, I typically have my crying sessions within a few hours of getting through my morning routine, in the afternoon or mid-afternoon, and or before I get into bed. A huge weight is let off of me when I sit with my emotions and release my tears. In the midst of my tears, I try not to linger too long on what is going wrong to prevent myself from going on a downward spiral.
Getting my thoughts out of my head and into a journal is a great way to balance the shifts in my mood. Journaling helps me identify several of my triggers. Just as crying helps release a lot of pressure, journaling is a way to relieve the mental weight I experience in the cooler months of the year. I usually write in my journal at night so I can reflect on my day or the past few days
14. Use Aromatherapy
Aromatherapy had been a huge part of my life for several years before I knew it could be a helpful form of treatment for SAD. I have used essential oil diffusers and candles with essential oil ever since I lived on my own. Apparently, the aroma of essential oils stimulates an area of the brain connected to emotions and mood. The use of aromatherapy could improve the imbalances of seasonal depression.
15. Spend Quality Time With Family & Friends
Staying connected with the people that I love is an important way to help me cope with seasonal affective disorder. I hold myself accountable for how I’m feeling based on whether or not I have reached out to close friends and family. Due to distance, I might not get to see a lot of the people that I care about as often as I would like to. I check in with them throughout the week with FaceTime calls or regular phone calls. It is especially important that I spend quality time with the people in my home, my kids and husband. In the past, I have withdrawn myself to try to protect them from my unstable emotions. Yet, spending time with them both indoors and outside doing fun activities has been an impactful part of keeping seasonal depression to a minimum.
How To Prevent Seasonal Depression
There is no sure way to prevent the development of seasonal affective disorder. However people who experience SAD can benefit from taking the initiative to start treatment methods early. Just as no two people are alike, no two people will have the same treatment program that helps them cope with seasonal affective disorder. What works for one person might not work for another. Yet the forms of treatment that you use may help reduce symptoms of seasonal depression.
With this extensive list of coping mechanisms and seasonal depression tips, I hope there’s something within this list of seasonal affective disorder treatments that will help you learn how to cope with seasonal affective disorder. Even if you find the first remedy doesn’t work please motivate yourself to try another one!
When To See Your Primary Care Physician or Seek Professional Mental Health Treatment
I am no licensed mental health or healthcare professional, so I can’t give you sound medical advice. What I can offer you is my opinion which is solely based on my lived experiences with seasonal depression. If you have a moment where you find yourself questioning whether you’re mentally okay, that is the time to see your healthcare provider. When you find yourself not feeling like your normal self for several days at a time then it’s time to see your healthcare provider. If you think you have symptoms of seasonal depression then it’s a good time to go see your health care professional. A general primary care doctor can refer you to mental health professionals such as a psychiatrist, therapist, or counselor.
If you know someone struggling with mental illness please call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 988, the National Alliance of Mental Health Hotline at 1-800-950-6264 or Text 62640
For more information about mental health information visit Mental Health America or the National Institute of Mental Health.
A Message of Support to Others Coping with Seasonal Depression
For anyone who may be wondering how to combat SAD or ” winter depression “, know that you are not alone in your struggle. I am one of many people in the world managing SAD in this large world. For anyone who may think they are experiencing SAD, reach out to a medical professional. There are effective forms of treatment for the symptoms you may be experiencing. Nonetheless, I am proof that you can stay the course. On the days when it feels like the world may be crumbling underneath my feet, I read my favorite comforting scriptures for my mental health.
I ask God for the strength deep down in my heart to see the silver lining on those days. The Holy Spirit speaks to me in the most unimaginable ways to where I am able to see the beauty and maintain peace on those days. For the past three years during the months when I experienced seasonal affective disorder, I know that the good days have outweighed the bad days. I know that the treatments I used allowed me to experience more of those good days. For in the midst of the unbearable lows and the extreme highs, I know that this too shall pass. I hope the same for you, seasonal affective disorder or not.
Let’s Continue The Conversation
What are some forms of seasonal depression treatment that you use?
Meet me in the comments with your answer!
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