If you’re like me, you probably enjoy watching the seasons change and seeing the ways that nature takes its course. The soft whistling wind through the trees. The crunch of dried leaves with every step. The beautiful mosaic nature creates with burnt sienna and other shades of red, orange, and yellow. The last remnants of green tucked in between. Autumn is truly a beautiful season! But as much as I enjoy the physical beauty of it, I also dread it’s arrival because with the change of the season I often feel like a leaf: clinging onto the last hints of warmth until I fall and am crushed.
Okay – that might be a little dramatic but the sentiment is real! It was during my sophomore year of college that I noticed that I was folding into myself during the fall months and I did not know why. I would sleep most of the day, skip meals, keep to myself (yet crave social interaction), and feel ultimate loneliness. By the time I was a junior and living with no roommates, it was easier for me to get away with shutting myself in and shutting the world out. There were often times where I would go days without leaving my room (luckily my schedule made it so that this would be possible without missing classes) and then I would wait until the very last minute before I’d have to get up for class without being late. I was often late. I would stay in bed for days without eating and sometimes didn’t have the energy to shower. When it got to that point, I realized that I needed to talk to someone about it. That was when I met with a therapist and learned that I was experiencing symptoms related to depression which were heightened by the seasons changing.
Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD), also known as seasonal depression, is very common and affects more than 3 million people per year. It typically starts in the fall and lasts throughout the winter months but some people can experience it in the spring and summer months. According to the National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH), symptoms of SAD include, but are not limited to:
- Having low energy
- Weight gain
- Craving for carbohydrates
- Social withdrawal (feel like “hibernating”)
If you’ve experienced these symptoms, it can be helpful to do some things and make some changes that can boost your mood and ease these symptoms. Below are some ideas that have worked for me and that can get you started! If you see anything you like, add it to your daily routine and adjust as needed to make it work for you!
1. Adjust Your Sleep Schedule for an Earlier Start
The end of daylight savings has been hard for me. The fact that the sun is setting at 6:00 P.M. (and soon even earlier) is frankly depressing. I’ve been trying to deal with this by waking up earlier to get more done and to maximize my daylight hours. If you’re waking up in the late morning or past noon, you only have a few hours of daylight and then BOOM, suddenly it’s dark.
Also, if you’re going to sleep late (midnight or after), I recommend experimenting with your sleeping time. Scale back your bed time to 11, 10:30, or 10:00. This means actually being in bed, laying down, with the lights off and your phone away at that time. Setting an alarm on your phone at least one hour before your bedtime can help remind you. And if you’re like me, you might need two. It might also help to put your phone on an automated “Do Not Disturb” schedule so you can avoid any distractions. Improving your sleeping habits will help improve how you feel and your overall mood!
2. Make Your Bed Every Day
When I moved into my apartment, I decided that I would adopt some positive habits to improve my daily routine and overall life. One of those things includes making my bed every day. Every. Single. Day. Even on weekends when I’m home but just lounging in my living room. Adopting this habit has helped me tremendously because when I come home, I’m welcomed by a tidy and comfortable looking bed. And on days when I’ve had a rough time at work – that’s exactly what I need.
Let’s face it, our personal space often reflects and contributes to our emotional state. So if your room is messy, crowded, and cluttered, so often are your thoughts. Or at least that has been my experience. But I’ve found that when my space is clean and organized, I feel more at peace and at ease. If it’s difficult for you to maintain that, taking a simple 30 seconds every morning to just make your bed is a perfect place to start.
3. Step Into the Light
Try to take advantage of the sunlight when you can by going for a walk, run/jog, bike ride, or whatever outdoor activity you prefer. Since it will most likely be cold, be sure to dress warm and comfortably. This will not only allow you to enjoy the sun, but the physical activity will help to feel better as well. When you’re indoors, try to maximize the sunlight by keeping your curtains or blinds open if possible. Also, be creative with yours space by experimenting with color, plants, lamps, string lights, artwork and candles if you have ’em. If we gotta be stuck inside, let’s at least make it a comfortable and appealing setting.
Artificial light therapy has also been used as a method to treat Seasonal Depression since the 1980s. This works by using a light box to emit a strong artificial light that you can sit by or in front of for a certain amount of time to make up for the daylight that is lost. Personally, I’ve never used this method but it’s something that you can discuss further with your medical provider. At first glance, these light boxes can be expensive but I did find some reasonably priced options online, such as the HappyLight which is available for $25.95. (This is not an ad.)
4. Move Your Body
Physical activity is a great way to ease seasonal depression. When you get your body in motion, it releases chemicals like endorphins, serotonin, and norepinephrine that help to relieve stress, ease pain, and produce a feeling of euphoria. So going for a walk, hitting the gym, or doing an at-home workout can work to reduce some symptoms of depression. With that being said, take up your favorite form of exercise or switch things up by trying something new! Whether that means practicing yoga or dancing to your favorite songs while naked in your living room – move your body love!
5. Curate a Fun Playlist of Your Favorite Songs
This one is pretty self-explanatory and goes hand in hand with tip #4. Whether you’re just chilling in bed, relaxing, or exercising, finding or making the perfect soundtrack of your favorite “feel good” songs can help improve your overall experience. If you can help it, try to avoid songs that are negative in nature and stick with the good vibrations.
6. Tell a Trusted Friend
Understand that you are not alone in this! If there is someone in your life who you feel comfortable with and who is easy to talk to – be it a partner, family member, or friend – allow yourself the opportunity to be open and share what you are experiencing. As someone who generally keeps things to myself, I am learning that it’s okay to lean on my support system.
Your loved ones care for you and want you to be okay so give them the opportunity to show up for you! You just might find that you aren’t alone in how you are are feeling. Just be mindful to make sure that they themselves are in the position to hold space for you in that capacity. And when you are able, pour back into them and reciprocate that support.
Repeat this: I am not alone. There are people who love and care for me.
7. Use Inspirational Quotes and Positive Affirmations
I truly believe in the power that words hold and exert on our lives. Self-talk is so so so important. If you catch yourself saying or thinking something negative about yourself, ask yourself, “would I say this about my friend?” If not, then why are you saying it about yourself? We deserve the kindness and friendship that we are so easily willing to give to others.
Sometimes we just have to look in the mirror and remind ourselves just exactly who we are! Even if we don’t yet believe it ourselves. So find some post it notes or paper with tape and write out some affirmations, inspirational quotes, and reminders that you can repeat to yourself when you need them.
Here are some of my favorites:
- Check your self talk!
- I am strong
- I am powerful
- I can do anything I set my mind to
- I am beautiful!
- I am living my best life!
- I am a good person
- I am not alone. There are people who love and care for me.
- I will be happy
- My life is full
- I am blessed
- Don’t let anyone throw shade on your shine
- “Caring for myself is not self-indulgence, it is self-preservation, and that is an act of political warfare” – Audre Lorde
- “Nothing is impossible, the word itself says ‘I’m possible'” – Audrey Hepburn
8. Seek Mental Health Support
Honestly, I think everyone could benefit from therapy by learning how to process and manage difficult situations, stress, grief, anger, trauma, toxic environments, relationship challenges, unhealthy emotions, etc. If you are experiencing symptoms of Seasonal Affective Disorder, or other mental health challenges, talking with a professional can help you work through it.
Unfortunately, therapy is not always accessible to everyone due to it’s tendency to be expensive. But I believe that mental health and wellness is a privilege that we all deserve. Below, I’ve added some information and resources that you can use to begin your search.
Free Mental health screening: https://screening.mentalhealthscreening.org/cityofphila
Find a therapist: https://www.psychologytoday.com/us/therapist
Tips for finding an affordable therapist: https://www.self.com/story/find-affordable-therapist-guide/amp
Affordable therapy in Philadelphia: https://generocity.org/philly/2018/06/27/mental-health-guide-where-to-get-therapy-on-a-sliding-scale-in-philadelphia/
Mental Health Information:
Thank you so much for reading! I hope that you found this article helpful for yourself and/or a loved one. I wish you all the best ~ Helena
Have you experienced Seasonal Depression? What have you done that has worked for you to cope? What are some things you hope to try? Share your thoughts with me below!