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Coping with SAD (Seasonal Affective Disorder)

With leaves changing and the amount of daylight hours shrinking, it can feel dreary for anyone. For those with seasonal affective disorder (SAD), it can be even more difficult. These tips provide some insight and advice for getting through this change of season. They are not meant to replace professional advice or treatment.

Seasonal affective disorder (SAD) is a type of depression that occurs within the same season each year (usually, but not always, occurring during fall and winter) and then goes away or improves during the rest of the year. Learn more on our illness page, here.

An estimated 2-3% of Canadians suffer with SAD. If you have episodes of depression that reoccur during the same season every year for more than 2 years, you might also have SAD and not just the occasional winter blues.

In the clinical field, SAD has more recently been renamed "depressive disorder with seasonal patterns". Want to know more about this type of depression? Watch this helpful video

If the sun is shining, take the opportunity to soak in the vitamin D! Natural light can be the best remedy.

Make a proactive plan. Before your symptoms of SAD worsen, set a routine to follow. Schedule in time for hanging out with friends, exercising, and other self-care. You may not be able to fully prepare for your change in mood, but having some things set in place can make you feel more in control.

Try aromatherapy! Essential oils can influence the area of the brain (limbic system) that's responsible for controlling moods and the body's internal clock. Try bergamot and lavender oils to help with symptoms of depression!

Have you tried several different therapies but nothing seems to be working? Explore light therapy! There are many devices available, such as special light bulbs and light boxes that can help.

Talk to your doctor! They can help you sort out if you have SAD, opposed to some other form of depression, or if something else is causing your symptoms. They can also help to create a treatment plan for you.

Sticking to a schedule and trying to maintain regular sleep patterns will help you to see the light! Keeping a regular schedule will expose you to light at consistent and predictable times.

Brighten up your space! Open your blinds to get natural light in, and decorate your surroundings with bright coloured decor.

Having to take medication or supplements, such as vitamin D, for SAD does not make you weak. Make sure to keep up with your doses, as it will help you to feel more regulated when times are tough.

Keep a journal! Release those negative thoughts by writing them down and getting them out of your brain.

Eat the rainbow! Different colours of fruits and vegetables contain certain compounds, vitamins and minerals that each have their own health benefits. Getting a variety will ensure you're getting the most health benefits for your brain and overall wellness.

Want to explore some non-traditional treatments? Try Reiki! Reiki treatments provide a gentle and supportive healing experience by balancing your chakras. Find a practitioner in your area and book a treatment!

Make the most of the day! Wake up as early as you can so you can take in those rays of sunlight.

Keep active to boost your mood and your energy! Try an activity like hot yoga or go for a jog outside in nature. It may seem impossible, but the exercise can help wonders.

Some days you may not be able to leave your bed, and that's okay. Other days, try to do the opposite of what your illness wants. If it's telling you to stay inside and isolate, go out and visit a friend. This is known as opposite action and is a common skill taught in therapy.

Plan ahead. As the winter months start rolling in, prepare for what's to come. Make a list of your coping strategies and supports for when you are faced with SAD.

If you're not able to go on vacation to somewhere warm and sunny, practice guided imagery. Close your eyes and imagine yourself walking on a beach. What would it feel like to have the sun shining on your face and to feel the sand in your toes?

Go outside your comfort zone and participate in some winter activities. There are many fun things to do that you might enjoy (e.g. renting skates at an ice rink, tobogganing, holiday crafts, making chili, etc.). These small acts can lift your spirits when you're feeling low.

Reach out to those around you. You just might find out that they experience SAD too, or know someone who does. You're never alone.

Try out photography. It may help you to see things, especially the winter months, from a different point of view.

Creating traditions with family or friends may help you to make meaning during these difficult times.

Download an app like Wisdo, to chat with people who are also struggling! Connecting with others and sharing your story can be incredibly healing experiences.

Educate yourself! Read books, watch videos and research about SAD - as long as they are accurate sources of information! By having a better understanding of something, it can make it easier to talk about what is going on and to make changes in your life.

Try a dawn simulator! Just like an alarm clock, but without the obnoxious noise! It produces light that gradually increases in intensity, just like the sun.

Talk it out, whether one-on-one with a counsellor or at a support group! Having an outlet to share what's on your mind and how you're feeling can be a great relief.

Did you have a favourite winter activity as a kid? Take some time to try it out again!

SAD may cause you to feel hopeless. Download the Be Safe app to create a safety plan for when you may be in crisis.

Sometimes you can't do it on your own and you may need medication to help you stabilize. That is okay! Talk to your doctor to explore your options.

It's important to remind yourself that brighter days are to come. Spring is around the corner, so don't give up.