Strategies on how to cope with mood declines in fall and winter
Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD) is a problem for many as soon as we set our clocks back and shorter, darker days become the norm every fall.
For many people setting clocks back, an hour can have seriously negative effects on their mental health.
Less exposure to sunlight’s negative effects include; disrupting circadian rhythms, causing both a drop in serotonin and spike in melatonin which can lead to feelings of drowsiness and depression, and even mood disorders.
SAD is much more prevalent in countries farther away from the equator where there is much less natural light exposure in winter.
Natural light is proven to helps our mood. A 2017 study showed how hospital admissions for depression, peaked directly after daylight savings time ended.
If you are aware of a pattern of winter depression in yourself, or are realizing that you are becoming depressed as the season changes, there are a number of proven strategies you can use to combat this.
Increase Your Light Exposure
Perhaps the most well researched and proven strategy for treating winter depression is to increase exposure to bright light. Given that the problem is more prevalent in Northern latitudes, where the winter days are darkest, the need for additional light makes sense.
Our bodies depend on regular exposure to bright, outdoor light to regulate a number of our biologic processes. When we are stuck inside, in dimly lit spaces for a long period of time, it can take a toll.
It can be difficult during depression to feel like doing anything. However, overcoming the urge to withdraw, and doing things anyway, can be an effective antidepressant.
One of the more well established antidepressant activities is exercise. And you don’t have to go to the gym every day to see a benefit--even vigorous walking for 20 minutes, most days per week can help.
Additionally, walking outside, even on cloudy days, will provide significantly more helpful light exposure than inside activities.
Another area of activity that often drops off for people during the winter months is social activity, and making an effort to maintain relationships can help fight depression. With this in mind, you might consider how to ensure that you continue to see the people you love and care about on a regular basis, even when your motivation to do things drops.
Consider scheduling regular meet-ups: a weekly dinner night with friends or family, coffee dates, joining in on groups that meet regularly for activities of interest to you, etc. The key is committing to these things before winter is in full-force, before it feels like too much to do anything.