6 Mindful Tips For Managing Seasonal Depression
Each year, roughly 10 million Americans experience seasonal affective disorder (SAD). Another 10-20% have mild SAD, or what some like to call the winter blues. Depression is the most common mental health disorder in the United States.
As the days grow shorter and darker, it’s easy to get into a funk, but those with SAD often spiral into depressive episodes that can last for months. During this time, they may experience feelings of hopelessness, hypersomnia, appetite changes, fatigue, and anxiety. In severe cases, patients’ weight can fluctuate and they may contemplate self-harm or suicide. Of course, symptoms vary but, with SAD, they tend to recur about the same time every year.
Regardless of when or how you suffer from seasonal depression, there are plenty of ways to cope. Learn to manage SAD and live your best life this winter with these mindful tips.
1. Connect to Your Senses
Many people with seasonal depression report feeling numb, apathetic, and exhausted, especially during the winter months. When it’s cold and gray outside, it’s much easier to stay in bed and shut out the rest of the world. You might even find a sort of rhythm where you go through your daily routine absentmindedly. Luckily, you can get off autopilot and start to feel again by connecting with your senses. Whether you’re taking a shower or folding clothes, slow down and bring awareness to the task at hand. How does the water feel on your skin? What do your blankets smell like right out of the dryer? Bringing mindfulness into each experience, no matter how mundane, can ground you and even make your routine more enjoyable.
2. Breathe Deep
Taking deep breaths is another great way to focus attention on the present moment. As you lengthen your inhales and exhales, you’ll become more aware of how you feel — physically and emotionally. Where is your breath most prominent? Try to fill up your belly rather than your chest, and incorporate exercises like alternate nostril breathing and resonant breath to calm your anxiety and achieve a sense of peace.
3. Do One Thing at a Time
If you’re struggling to focus or make decisions, you may be battling SAD. Feeling scatterbrained and uncertain is a common sign of depression, and multitasking will only make matters worse. That’s why it’s best to simply do one thing at a time. Practice purposely shifting mental gears whenever you move from one task to the next. Give your brain short intermissions throughout the day, too. Setting reminders on your phone or calendar is a great way to ensure you stay on task without burning out.
4. Make Someone Smile
Sometimes, all you need to pull yourself out of a depression is to do something kind for someone else. Rather than focus on your own limitations and shortcomings, turn your attention to supporting others. Whether it’s making a meal for a loved one or volunteering at your local homeless shelter, putting a smile on strangers’ faces is sure to put one on yours, too.
5. Try Light Therapy
No one’s exactly sure what causes SAD. However, experts believe it might link back to a lack of sunlight, especially during winter. Fewer daylight hours and heavy clouds minimize your exposure to sunlight, which can disrupt your circadian rhythm and sleep schedule. Eventually, your mood and overall sense of well-being will start to suffer, and you may develop SAD. This is where light therapy comes in. Exposing yourself to natural sunlight or a light therapy box stimulates the retina, which in turn affects the hypothalamus. This part of your brain is responsible for regulating sleep cycles. Thus, activating it at certain times each day can restore your circadian rhythm and banish seasonal symptoms like anxiety and depression.
6. Prioritize Self-Care
Perhaps seasonal depression has made it difficult to even get out of bed and take care of yourself. If so, it’s high time to reprioritize self-care. Aside from relaxing activities like taking a bath or making tea, remember to address your most basic needs, first. Personal hygiene often takes a back seat when depression hits. However, that’s when it’s most imperative to shower, eat well, exercise, and care for yourself like you would a friend. Taking the initiative might be a struggle, but once you begin, you’ll likely gain momentum, invest more time in self-care, and experience fewer SAD symptoms as a result.
Knowing When to Seek Help
If your symptoms intensify or you try the above tips to no avail, make an appointment with your health care provider or a therapist. They can offer nuanced advice, provide effective, personalized coping strategies, and even prescribe medications if need be. Remember, there’s no shame in asking for help, so make sure to get it if you need it.
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