Tackling Seasonal Depression

Seasonal depression, or Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD), is a type of mood disorder caused by the transition of seasons. Typically, it begins around the fall and extends up until the spring. While most of us consider this shift in mood to be a result of the “winter blues,” SAD is a lot more severe. Symptoms can include low energy, difficulty sleeping, changes in appetite, and feelings of hopelessness. It is crucial that you monitor even your mildest symptoms as these can change overtime. There are many effective ways to cope with SAD and many of them start with developing good habits. Here are a few lifestyle changes and remedies that could help you tackle SAD over the next couple of months.
  1. 1. Natural Light

    If you are struggling with SAD, you want to expose yourself to as much natural light as possible. Sunlight is a good source of Vitamin D. Vitamin D is responsible for increasing serotonin levels, which people with SAD seem to lack. Activating this neurotransmitter boosts our mood and regulates our sleep patterns (keep this in mind, as serotonin will be mentioned again!). Although days are getting shorter and most of us will be cooped up inside with online school, try to make it an effort to take some breaks and get outdoors. If you can’t go out, be sure to brighten up your space by opening the blinds and working in a well lit room. Light boxes and candles are a great alternative as well!

    woman reading a book on a window seat
  2. 2. Plants

    While most of us might be spending time indoors, try redecorating your living space with an assortment of plants and flowers! Bright-colored flowers are not only  appealing to the eye, but they can also boost our moods. As well, many plants give off fragrances that are both pleasant and soothing. Furthermore, studies have shown plants enhance our productivity and creativity. If you’re not one to care for plants, getting your hands on their essential oils is sufficient as well. Lavender and frankincense are known for their calming effects and their ability to increase focus. And of course, caring for plants is a wonderful hobby!

  3. 3. Journaling

    Journaling is extremely effective as it helps you reflect on your thoughts and feelings. Many people struggling with anxiety or depression take up journaling. Sometimes, we assume we know what we are feeling, but our emotions are much more complicated than we think. Psychotherapist Cynthia McKay says expressing yourself through writing can help bring your thoughts to the surface. Many people are surprised with the things they write as they aren’t truly aware of their worries until they’re legible on paper. You don’t have to think too hard about it. Even if you are doodling or jotting down a few words you think are meaningless, it is healthy to release our emotions onto a physical platform. You can choose to keep these private or share them with a therapist.

    Back-to-school supplies, agenda
  4. 4. Exercising

    By now, we’re all aware that keeping active is good for both our minds and our bodies. Living in a country that exhibits brutal winters, many of us can become discouraged from wanting to get outdoors. However, there are plenty of activities, such as skating and tubing, that can take your mind off the chilly weather. And even if you’re not one to spend too much time outside, there are plenty of things you can do indoors as well. The key is to keep your body moving. Recently, I have been keeping up with dancehall workouts on YouTube because they’re fun and it doesn’t seem like working out at all. This is a great opportunity to try something new and develop a consistent schedule to keep a regular Circadian rhythm. More importantly, it’s not what  exercise you choose, it’s when you choose to exercise. Refrain from working out during the night as this can disrupt your sleep patterns.

  5. 5. Diet

    It goes without saying that you are what you eat. I’m guilty of heading to the cupboard in between classes to reach for some comfort food because I know it’s comforting. But nutritionally, they’re not the best foods for us. If you are experiencing SAD, or simply want to make better food choices, reduce your caffeine, alcohol and sugary drinks intake. Also refrain from foods that are high in trans fat (mainly anything fried) and processed foods like chips and cookies. So, what exactly should you be eating?  Strive for dark, leafy greens, such as spinach and kale, that are rich in folate and vitamin B12, and foods with omega-3, such as fish and walnuts. These have been known to boost serotonin (Yup! There it is again!). It may be helpful to stock up your fridge with these items t0 avoid the temptation of reaching for foods that don’t supply much nutritional value. This is also a great opportunity to get creative and try new recipes!

    Flatlay of food on green background
  6. 6. Music

    As seasons change, so do our musical preferences. We all want to get into the holiday spirit and start jamming out to our traditional Christmas tunes. I hate to break it to you, but Christmas music isn’t so jolly after all. Studies have shown holiday music contributes to the stress and thought of holiday shopping. During this time of year, I find myself gravitating towards Caribbean carnival music such as soca, reggae and calypso. This upbeat music makes me feel warm and happy. Now imagine the effects it could have when linked to exercising and exposure to the sun! The type of music we listen to has a tremendous effect on our mood. After doing some research, I also discovered classical music may be able to help with SAD. There are tons of psychological studies that have shown the positive impacts of classical music. So, it’s time to shake up your playlist (and shake along with it).

    hand holding iphone showing spotify
If you are dealing with a severe case of Seasonal Affective Disorder, consult with your doctor or therapist. Remember to check out York University's campus resources as well.