6 Ways to Make Seasonal Affective Disorder a Little Less Hellish

Seasonal affective disorder (SAD), AKA the bane of my existence from November to March, can affect anyone and can, in many cases, be attributed to a screw up in your circadian rhythm as due to the change in light available outside. While you don’t have to have a preexisting mental illness for SAD to affect you, for those of us--like me--who battle depression year-round, SAD adds an extra spicy layer to our constant struggle with The Big Sad. So, from my own experience and from my latest therapy sessions, here are some ways to make seasonal affective disorder a little less hellish. 


1. Light therapy

Light therapy is pretty simple--you sit under a light therapy box, or a light therapy lamp, for about 20-30 minutes a day. You can do whatever you want while under the glow; I like to do homework, watch Tik Toks, or read a book during that time. Light therapy helps to “reset” your circadian rhythm and get you back on track. It’s been described as being as effective as antidepressants for the treatment of seasonal affective; however, like medication, it won’t work perfectly for everyone. A nice little bonus for light therapy is that lights and boxes come in all shapes, sizes, and prices. I got mine off Amazon for $40, but I’ve seen lamps for as low as $25 and as high as $200. If you see a mental health professional, feel free to ask them questions about light therapy, including what their favorite lamp is and how long they think is optimal for your condition. If you don’t see a mental health professional, most lamps come with directions on the box for how long/how to use.


2. Exercise

For years I was told that exercise will help my depression. And every time someone told me that, I dug my heels in a little more; I only associated exercise with weight loss, and I was (am? hah) very self-conscious about my weight. But one day I made plans to go to Planet Fitness with a friend, and I felt so amazing afterwards. Sweaty, red, out of breath, but happy. I later found out from a mouth swab that I have the ~mutation~ that makes exercise, specifically cardio, a viable treatment for depression. Even if you don’t have that mutation, there have been countless studies finding cardio to be effective in treating depression. So, as much as younger me would hate to admit, exercise helps. A lot. And I know it can be annoying to hear about how exercise “cures” everything (let me stress: not a cure, just a way to alleviate), but, for me, exercise is extremely helpful. 


3. Meds and vitamins

Please, for the love of all things holy, only take medication that has been prescribed to you. Don’t try your friend’s antidepressants just to see if they work. Don’t do it. However, if your doctor has prescribed you medication, take it accordingly. For me, it helps to buy a weekly medicine container I fill up every Sunday. For others, a reminder on your phone every night helps. If your psychiatrist is a super cool, amazing, gives you an immediate way to contact him kind of guy, feel free to reach out and ask if you should increase your medicine dosage during the winter months; my doctor, who is a super cool, amazing, gives you an immediate way to contact him kind of guy, thought this was a great idea for the days leading up to my period (PMDD where ya at), so I imagine it could be worth discussing for SAD. 

As well, I like to increase my intake of Vitamin D during the winter months. I have a huge container of Vitamin D easy-swallow pills from Costco, and I double my intake (it’s still a healthy amount) during SAD season. Why do I do this? Because my mom, a psychology teacher, likes to keep up with the latest research articles and once stumbled upon one linking Vitamin D with depression. Since then, more research has come out, and I’m always like, “Better safe than sorry!” or, more accurately, “Better more pills than depression!”


4. A support system

One thing that has always stuck with me after therapy sessions is my therapist’s insistence that a support system changes the way you face depression. And I didn’t really realize how much of an impact it did have until I went from having no support system to having a support system. And then I was like, “Yeah. This is why I pay her the big bucks. She knows things,” because it was a huge difference. Sometimes a support system means having someone to talk to when you’re sad, sometimes it’s having someone to go to the rec center with you, and sometimes, it’s just sitting in the same room and doing homework on days you didn’t know if you could get out of bed, but your friend hit you up so you did. 

Don’t have a support system? It’s always a good time to make one! Any way you can get involved on-campus or with other peers is a good starting place; I feel a lot of my support system is comprised of those from my sorority, from my on-campus clubs, and from people in my classes that I forced myself to reach out to (which was terrifying, but well worth it). 


5. Talk therapy

Talking to someone when you’re depressed always makes shitty days a little less shitty. I like to confide mostly in my therapist (because that’s what she’s there for, and I never feel like I’m dumping on her) and my girlfriend (who I have to be more careful not to dump on, because not everyone is a trained therapist). Your support system can come in handy here, but so can your on campus counseling centers. While these centers get mixed reviews, and even if they aren’t the best on your campus, I’d say a bad counselor is better than no counselor at all. Plus, on campus counselors are typically free and provide many other resources (I found my therapist through the counseling center’s recommendation). So, if you already have a therapist, or are looking into one, go ahead and make a few/a few extra appointments for the winter months. 


6. The little things

Finally, there’s the little things. The self-care things. During the winter months, I find myself getting messier as depression kicks in, and every time my room builds up with clutter, I feel worse. So it helps to clean my room often. Another little thing is personal time because a support system is vital, but so is watching Netflix under the covers sometimes. Keeping clean can be hard when depression comes knocking, but frequent showers make you feel better about yourself and more ready to face the world (don’t forget the lotion afterwards! This is winter, after all). And one little thing that’s actually another big thing--eating. For me, eating when faced with mental illness is like running a marathon with high heels on. But eating is vital, so even if you can’t manage to get all the correct servings of vegetables and fruits and meats and grains and whatever else you’re supposed to eat that I don’t, just eat something. And eventually, start trying to add in healthier options. There are big lists of depression superfoods online, and lots of them make easy snacks.