The Lowdown on Seasonal Affective Disorder: What it is, Symptoms and Tips to Combat It

Tips I've learned after living in the Pacific Northwest + more!
The Lowdown on Seasonal Affective Disorder: What it is, Symptoms and Tips to Combat It. #selfcare #wellness #winter #winterwellness #seasons #winterselfcare #SAD #seasonaldepression #seasonalaffectivedisorder #happylight #happylamp

The holidays are fun, but that’s only a brief moment in the long season that is winter. Although I’ve always been someone who appreciates living in a place where I get to experience all of the seasons, as I’ve gotten older, winter and shorter, darker days have started to take a toll on me. When I started researching how I was feeling, I realized I had Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD – what an appropriate acronym, right?).

I think SAD is a pretty common thing for a lot of people, but I wanted to dedicate a wellness post to it and shed some light on what you can do to turn things around. Plus, I’ve been talking about it on Instagram and have gotten several questions, so why not write a post!

Here’s what I know about Seasonal Affective Disorder (based on my own personal experience and research) and what I’m doing to combat it. I hope you find these tips helpful!

What is Seasonal Affective Disorder?

The name is pretty straightforward, but for those who might not be familiar with Seasonal Affective Disorder, it’s basically experiencing changes to your mood and energy level at the same time every year, typically during the winter months. According to the Mayo Clinic, for most people, SAD begins to set in in the fall and continues, often at its peak through the winter months and can develop into full-fledged depression if left untreated. I first noticed that I was feeling dull, down, and lethargic back in early November.

One of the biggest triggers for me personally is the shorter days. With the sun rising so late and setting so early, the darkness has me ready to go to bed at 5 pm! Plus, because Seattle is so far north, the sun sets even earlier here (if we even have a sunny day…). If you find yourself feeling this way, it could be a symptom of SAD. Other symptoms can include difficulty concentrating, problems with sleep, losing interest in things that usually get you excited, and feeling sluggish or easily irritated. I’m one of those exceedingly lucky individuals who felt all of those symptoms all at once… of course.

Tips to Combat SAD

There are a few different options for treating SAD, but every situation is unique to the person experiencing it. I’m doing what I think is best for me, however, something different might work for you.

Also, I am by no means a doctor, so please do consult a medical professional to help deal with Seasonal Affective Disorder and Depression.

Light therapy

Otherwise known as getting a “happy light.” If you follow along on Instagram Stories, you’ve probably heard me talk about my happy light. It may seem trivial, but I think it has actually made a huge difference. Because I struggle the most with short, dark days, having a light that emulates natural daylight is amazing. If you think you might have SAD, I highly recommend getting a happy light as your first step.

When shopping for a happy light, make sure it provides 10,000 lux of light and emits as little UV light as possible. You’ll also need a schedule. I use mine when I first wake up in the morning because oftentimes it’s dark still. I usually use my light box for 30 minutes while I have my coffee and catch up on emails. It’s suggested that you keep the light about 16-24 inches from your face and don’t look directly at it! If I am especially dragging and feeling sluggish, I will use it around 4:30 to help power me up for a few more hours.

Make sure you’re getting enough vitamins

Having a deficiency in several different vitamins can cause energy drops and other symptoms similar to SAD, so be sure you’re getting enough of what your body needs. One of the most common deficiencies associated with SAD is vitamin D. I’ve been taking vitamin D3 supplements and I think it’s helping. (Yes, they are gummy vitamins because I hate swallowing pills!) You can grab some at any local grocery store, but I recommend talking to a doctor before making any changes.

I have also made a few changes to my diet to help get more vitamin D. These foods help to ease the symptoms of SAD and will help to boost your overall mood:

  • Omega-3 fatty acids like salmon, walnuts, and flax seed
  • lean proteins
  • berries such as blueberries, raspberries, and strawberries.
  • dark chocolate

Therapy and/or medication

I’m pretty lucky that these changes I’ve made have really helped with my Seasonal Depression. If you’re feeling like at-home remedies aren’t enough for you, it might be time to head in to talk to a therapist. Everyone deserves to feel energized and excited about their day, so if this is a step you need to feel better, do it.

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Have you ever struggled with SAD? I would love to know what worked for you to get through it!

P.S. you can find even more self care and wellness tips here, including:

Behind The Blog

Joanna Hawley-McBride is a Pacific Northwest-based social media strategist, content creator, and former textile designer. Joanna is the founder and editor-in-chief of Jojotastic, a lifestyle blog focused on Joanna’s work-in-progress cabin, finding the best pair of underwear through #UnderwearThesis, and empowering women to explore nature — all in her signature unfiltered style. Her work has been featured in Domino, CNBC, and Eating Well.

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