7 Ways to Battle Seasonal Depression

According to the American Academy of Family Physicians, 4-6% of Americans suffer from seasonal depression.  Which comes to just over 1.5 million Americans if you do the math. The days are shorter, we get less sunlight and many of us are cooped up in the house, blech. Thankfully scientists have found some of the causes of seasonal depression and came up with some great ways to battle it.

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Get More Light

One of the biggest causes of seasonal depression is the lack of natural sunlight.  Natural sunlight effects your circadian rhythm and tells your body to produce a lot of melatonin in the evening so you can sleep better, and very little in the morning when it is time to get up. If you suffer from seasonal depression the cause could be a problem in your circadian rhythm.  The change in sunlight might be telling your body to produce too much melatonin during the day and not enough at night.

Research has shown that people who use light box therapy or dawn simulators feel better during the winter months than those who don’t.  The light from these lights can stimulate your circadian rhythm and get you producing melatonin at the right times of the day.

Of course, you can’t just grab a lightbulb and aim it at your face.  Here are some tips for finding the most effective devices and how to use them.

  • Look for devices that provide full spectrum light like this light box or this dawn simulator.  Full spectrum light is the closest thing to natural sunlight and will have the greatest effect.
  • If you are using a light box, use it first thing in the morning for 30 minutes to suppress melatonin production.
  • Most people see a difference in about a week, so don’t give up if it doesn’t work the first day you try it.
  • Once you see a difference there is no data to show any harm in continuing daily use of either the light box or the dawn simulator.

Add Exercise

Exercise helps most forms of depression and seasonal depression is no different.  Going for a walk or a run outside is ideal, but if you live in an area that is very cold or snowy, try positioning a treadmill near a window that gets morning sunlight and walking for about 30 minutes every morning (after the sun comes up!)

I live in the mountains of Virginia and hike for most of the year. Even when it is in the twenties, if you are dressed for it, a good hike can feel great.  Always dress in layers and use a moisture wicking layer close to your body.  I love my Under Armour but any base layer that has moisture wicking properties will work.

If you plan on hiking at any time of the year make sure someone knows what trail you are hiking and what time you plan on being back.

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Stick to a Schedule

Keeping your sleep/wake cycle the same, even on weekends, can help keep your circadian rhythms intact.  I know it is no fun to wake up at 7 am on a Saturday, but it can help keep seasonal depression at bay.

Eating meals at the same time each day also keeps blood sugar levels more even.  This will keep you from the roller coaster feeling of late afternoon blood sugar drops and keep the hangry at bay.  As a bonus, research from the University of Michigan shows eating meals at the same time each day can help keep those pesky winter pounds from showing up on your waist line.

Take Vitamin D

This study from the Journal of Nutrients shows that adding a vitamin D supplement to your daily care can significantly improve seasonal depression symptoms.  Doctors recommend getting at least 600 IU per day of vitamin D with a maximum level of 4000 IU’s per day.  Be careful when supplementing Vitamin D, many supplements start at 5000 IU’s per day which is over the recommended daily dosage, look for a vitamin D supplements like this one that has 2000 IU’s per capsule.

If you are not a huge fan of taking pills look for natural foods that are high in vitamin D or fortified with vitamin D.  Milk, some orange juice brands and dark leafy vegetables like kale can all add vitamin D to your diet.

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Keep a Journal

Journaling is a great way to focus your energy and reflect on the day.  As I write in my happiness journal, my words give weight to the good things that happened that day and make the bad things seem not so bad.

Journaling is another thing that is recommended for many kinds of depression, it is easy to do and helps so many people organize their thoughts.  Remember any kind of journal can work, a pen and paper, a word document or even a picture journal.  Try it out and figure out what works for you.

Try Aromatherapy

A study from the Journal of Natural Medicine found that essential oils would not cure depression, but they did see positive effects in many cases.  I spoke with Shalako Jensen, an expert in essential oils, and she agreed that her clients had seen many positive effects from essential oils.

Shalako recommended lavender oil as a great starting point for anyone dealing with seasonal depression, other scents you could try include frankincense, patchouli and basil.  You can check out Shalako’s site here to get more information about essential oils.

See Your Doctor

If you have tried these remedies and had no luck, it might be time to see your doctor.  Your doctor can prescribe an antidepressant and may be able to hook you up with a therapist that specializes in seasonal depression.  There is no shame in reaching out to a professional for help, so if all else fails, consult your doctor!

Seasonal Depression is Serious

Seasonal depression is a real problem for so many people (at least 1.5 million in the US alone).  Don’t let things slide as just the “winter blues”.  If you start having negative feelings and they continue for more than a few days, take them seriously.  Consult your doctor, try light therapy or add some vitamin D to your diet.  Happiness does not have to be just a summertime thing.

If at anytime you are having thoughts of suicide please call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-8255

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