How to Fight Seasonal Affective Disorder

I love winter. I really do. I love Christmas and New Years and the snow and the way my nose gets all red and cute when I get back from a brisk walk. It’s great. It’s fun. But once I get back to campus, and the sky is gray and I’m walking around in -2 degree weather, I start to get pretty tired of it. Literally. I get really, really tired. I also get a little sad, and my brain gets foggy, and I feel like turning in at 7pm every night. I already deal with depression and anxiety on a regular basis, but it seems as if it’s heightened during the winter, and for a long, long time, it felt like there was nothing I could do about it. I used to tell myself, “Well, things will just be better when it’s warmer. I just have to stick it out for a few more months.” Ah, silly, old me. I wish I could go back and yell at her and tell her “Wait! There are things you can do! All is not lost!” So here are the best tips I’ve compiled over the years, from the internet and my therapist and other friends who deal with the same thing. 

Get the Right Kind of Sleep

If you’re feeling more tired than usual during the winter months, you might be prone to taking naps or sleeping for longer hours. But one of the keys to feeling refreshed throughout the day is getting the right kind of sleep. While a 20 minute power nap isn’t going to hurt anyone, napping for longer than that can actually leave you feeling more groggy than you began. It can also disrupt your ability to fall asleep later in the evening. Similarly, sleeping for too long can make you more sluggish as well. While everyone is different, the most effective amount of sleep appears to be between 7 and 9 hours. I know for myself, when I get a full 8 hours, I feel better than when I get less or more. 

Limit Your Caffeine Intake 

If you’re feeling tired, a cup of coffee in the morning is a good idea to put a little pep in your step. However, if you’re already dealing with anxiety and stress, a high amount of caffeine isn’t going to do you any favors. It can also have a bad effect on your sleep schedule, which as we already know is pretty important during these winter months. Try to limit your caffeine to 1-2 cups a day, and aim to cut yourself off around noon. Trust me, I know it’s hard. 

Vitamin D

We’ve all been told from an early age to slap sunscreen on ourselves when we’re playing outside. But in recent years, scientists have discovered the very important effects that the sun, and vitamin d, have on our bodies, and more importantly, our minds. They recommend getting 10-15 minutes of pure, unadulterated sun time every day. But during these winter months, the sun has practically disappeared. Lucky for you, there are other ways to get that very important vitamin in your system. Vitamin d supplements, while not as great as the actual sun itself, is still a good way of boosting your levels of vitamin d. Similarly, going tanning every now and again has shown to have beneficial results as well (but please don’t bake yourself under harsh lights more than once a week). And finally, you can find light therapy lamps on Amazon for pretty cheap. These little tools give you a good dose of bright light during the dark winter months.

Self Care

This one definitely isn’t new, but certainly always needs to be reiterated. When you’re feeling out of it or down in the dumps, do things that make you feel good. Drink some tea, read a book, do a facemask, watch your favorite movie. Or maybe go for a run, have your favorite takeout for dinner, and take a nice bath. It’s important to treat yourself kindly when going through a rough patch. Be patient with yourself, and remember, healing is not linear. 

Diet

Craving carbs and processed foods is just one of the ways SAD messes with your appetite. Definitely treat yourself to bagels or fries or pizza when you want it, but make sure you’re also eating foods high in nutrients, such as lean protein, omega 3 fatty acids, and fresh, seasonal veggies and fruits.