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7 Tips for Managing SAD this Season

For those who don’t know, SAD is the acronym for seasonal affective disorder, also called seasonal depression or depressive disorder with seasonal patterns. In short, it’s a type of depression that occurs within the same season each year (usually during fall and winter) for two or more years, and improves or stops altogether during the rest of the year.

The fall and winter seasons this year are rough for a lot of people, largely due to the pandemic, which means it’s also a particularly difficult time for those who already suffer with SAD or SAD tendencies. I think it’s important that we validate that this is the case, that it’s a difficult time and all the more important for us to be gentle with ourselves. It may not be possible for all of us to get complete reprieve from our SAD symptoms, however there are things we can do to help manage or make the darkness a little more bearable. Today, I’m going to feature seven tips for exactly that and hopefully one or more of them might be able to bring you even a bit of comfort.

  1. This may seem obvious, but I think it’s important to include: take some time to learn about what SAD is. I tend to feel like I have a better grip on even being able to consider managing or coping with something once I have a decent understanding of it. In this sense, I think it’s true that knowledge can be power. The more we know about something, the less we feel like it’s this unexplainable entity that’s entirely out of our control.
  2. If you haven’t already, seek professional care. If you’re struggling with SAD, it’s important that you consult a professional so that they can help you come up with a plan of action (ideally this would be your family doctor, but if you don’t have one or they aren’t a great fit, then a walk-in clinic or some other quick-access professional care can be good alternatives). That plan might involve medication, vitamins, referrals for therapy, or other advice they may have.
  3. After consulting with a professional, take some time to sit down and create an overall management plan or routine to try and stay proactive throughout this time. If you can, each day try to schedule some sort of self-care or feel-good activity, schedule in time for activities like physical movement and rest, as well as social time (even if that’s just a goal to send a text). Routines can be an incredibly helpful tool when other things in our life can feel out of our control, and scheduling in time for self-care and other important activities — that we often forget about or put off — can help us prioritize the things that will make a difference for our well-being.
  4. Try to take advantage of the times when the sun is shining. Actually, try to get outside each day regardless! Getting fresh air and even five minutes of movement can make a bigger difference than you realize — especially during daylight, but even getting outside while it’s dark is better than nothing! Some days it can be really hard to motivate ourselves to put on our winter gear and leave the house, but try to give yourself some positive self talk and remember you’re doing this because it just might help you — even if you don’t feel the effects immediately.
  5. Going off of the previous tip, there may be days where you just can’t get yourself to go outside. That’s okay. On those days, see if you can still build some movement into your day. It can be anything from stretching or dancing a few songs out, to a yoga session or at-home workout. Whatever you’re able to manage, your body and mind will thank you!
  6. Try and make it a goal, whether it’s once a week, or every couple weeks, to do an activity that’s novel or that you haven’t done in a while. I think part of what can make these seasons difficult is that we often feel stuck inside, living the same day on repeat. Giving yourself something new or different to look forward to can help break up the monotony and maybe even lead to discovering a new hobby! Some ideas could be renting skates at an ice rink, geocaching (there should still be geocaches near you that are accessible during the winter months), cooking something new, photography, bird watching, working your way through a list of movies you’ve been meaning to watch, a virtual book club, the possibilities are endless!
  7. These times can be tough, and sometimes no matter what we do proactively, we can still find ourselves in crisis. That’s why it’s so important to be prepared and have a safety or crisis plan in place. Try downloading the Be Safe app and using it to create a safety plan. It can be helpful to work on it with a supportive person and to do so before you reach a crisis state. Ask some of your trusted folks if you can share it with them, so that they can better support you and help you to support yourself if you do end up in crisis.

These are just a few tips that will give you somewhere to start when it comes to managing and coping with SAD this season. For more tips, check out the Coping with Seasonal Affective Disorder list. Whatever you do, remember that these feelings won’t last forever. There are brighter days ahead, and there will still be opportunities for light even in these darker months. You are not alone and you can get through this. Be kind to yourselves!