Sunset times are creeping closer to the late afternoon, and around this time of the year, many people find that their mood and mindset are noticeably affected. It’s not uncommon to feel depressed, lack interest in normal activities or experience other symptoms such as fatigue, anxiety, weight gain, changes in sleep patterns, irritability and cravings for sweet and starchy foods.
These are all indicators of Seasonal Affective Disorder, or SAD: a common type of depression that typically starts in the late fall and early winter, and goes away during the spring and summer. Risk factors for SAD include being female, living far from the equator, a family history of depression and being younger.
If you think you’re affected by SAD, talk with a doctor or mental-health professional to discuss the available medical remedies and therapies. In addition, there are many natural, at-home options that could help to boost your mood when sunshine becomes scarce. Here are some helpful remedies to consider incorporating into your life or routine.
Use lightboxes or dawn simulators
The main treatment for SAD is light therapy: essentially replacing the sunshine that you miss during the fall and winter months. This involves sitting in front of a light-therapy box every morning to get daily exposure to bright, artificial light. You can also find bedside lights and alarm clocks that are designed to simulate a sunrise, allowing your body to wake up naturally with light, rather than in darkness, when the sunrise is still an hour or so away.
As it does with other forms of depression, exercise can help alleviate SAD, too. If possible, get some exercise outside, which will also give you exposure to sunlight. If it’s cold or snowy, choose a treadmill, stationary bike or elliptical machine close to a window at the gym.
Let the sunshine in
This may seem obvious, but planning times during your day to be in sunlight is helpful. If you work away from windows, this may take some thought and scheduling. Going for a stroll during your lunch break or sitting near a window while enjoying an afternoon beverage can boost your mood.
Stick to a schedule
One suspected cause of SAD is that our circadian rhythms are disrupted, which causes the changing patterns in sleeping and eating. Setting and maintaining a routine and schedule with consistent waking and eating times can help your internal clock to stay on track during the longest dark days.
Go on a sunny vacation
Here’s a great reason to head south for a while during the depths of winter: You can lift your mood while basking in the warmth under sunny skies. Even a few days in warmer climates can have a lingering mood-boosting effect for weeks.
Keep a journal
Writing down your thoughts and feelings at day’s end can have a positive effect on your mood year-round. Aim to spend 15 minutes each evening reflecting on your day. Journaling can also help you fall asleep more quickly once you’ve emptied your mind of lingering anxieties and nagging thoughts.
Increase your vitamin D
Try eating more foods that contain vitamin D, including fatty fish, egg yolks, fortified dairy products or orange juice, and cheese. Taking low doses of vitamin D were linked to successful treatment of SAD in research reported in 2014 in the journal Medical Hypotheses. Talk to your doctor about testing your vitamin D levels and whether supplements would be right for you.
Another overall remedy for depression includes engaging in stress-reduction techniques such as yoga, meditation, guided imagery and progressive muscle relaxation. Build a mindfulness practice into your daily or weekly schedule, especially during the fall and winter.
The best way to successfully avoid SAD during the dark months is to be proactive: Don’t delay talking to your doctor or incorporating treatments and remedies.