Of the depressions and disorders known to humankind, seasonal depression is one of the worst.
Also called seasonal affective disorder (SAD), or the “winter blues,” seasonal depression occurs when there are drastic changes or shifts in seasonal patterns, such as fluctuations in the weather and lack of sunlight.
According to the Mayo Clinic, little or no exposure to sunlight can disrupt your internal clock (aka your “circadian rhythm”) and drastically reduce your levels of serotonin (a brain chemical that regulates your mood, happiness and anxiety.)1
What’s more, lack of sunlight can trigger the release of melatonin — a hormone that your brain produces in response to darkness — which can deregulate your internal sleep/wake cycle.
In the wintertime, some places get very little sunlight — think Norway, Alaska, Canada and some parts of the northern United States.
These are places where darkness reigns supreme for 16 to 20 hours a day, typically from November through March — a period of seasonal depression marked by its many symptoms (see below):
THE THING ABOUT SEASONAL DEPRESSION
Here’s the unique thing about seasonal affective disorder:
It can frazzle the most put-together, depression-repelling person in the world.
For argument’s sake, let’s say that you suffer from a type of depression that can only be triggered by eating spoonfuls of salted caramel ice cream.
(If you don’t like this flavor, pick another! Or pick your favorite food instead!)
This means that you can control and mitigate the symptoms of your depression as long as you don’t cave by devouring tub after tub of salted caramel ice cream.
And guess what? You’re doing great!
Your freezer’s stocked with this tasty delight, but you refrain from touching it.
Better yet, you dump every single tub of salted caramel ice cream in the trash, dust off your hands and walk away with your head held high.
Take that depression! you think to yourself, waving it goodbye in your mind as you slay another depression-less day.
But guess what?
Seasonal depression doesn’t work like this, partly because you’re not always in control of it.
For instance, you can’t always control where you live.
And if that happens to be a place with dark winters and freezing temperatures, you might be in for a treat of the seasonal depression variety.
Except that this treat won’t be as scrumptious as salted caramel ice cream.
Also, unless you can control the weather like Storm from the X-Men, you’re ultimately susceptible to the winter blues.
So, once again, here’s the unique thing about seasonal depression:
It’ll find a way to shove mounds of salted caramel ice cream down your throat.
And if you refuse to swallow, it’ll pinch your nose so that you’ll have to swallow (should you want to breathe again.)
6 BEST PRACTICES TO CURE SEASONAL DEPRESSION
Now that we’ve forever ruined salted caramel ice cream for you, what if we told you that there’s a cure (or several cures) for seasonal affective disorder?
But like any cure, we must implore you to keep your wits about you as you explore the below 6 practices to cure seasonal depression.
After all, it’ll take a semblance of faith on your part to believe that you can shake off the winter blues, even when the sun’s been absent for months.
And if you’re reading this from sunny Southern California acting like you’re immune to seasonal depression, don’t think that we haven’t heard of “June Gloom” when dark gray clouds eclipse the mighty California sun and early-morning to late-evening temperatures linger in the 50s.
#1. CHECK YOUR VITAMIN D LEVELS
After a routine physical checkup, a relatively healthy person elicits the applause of their primary care doctor.
“Your vitals look good!” the doctor says, “although your vitamin D levels could use a boost.”
When human skin reacts to sunlight, the body produces vitamin D.
A proper dosage of vitamin D can keep your body’s calcium and phosphate levels in check.
In turn, these nutrients keep your bones, teeth and muscles healthy.
A vitamin D deficiency begs the question: Are you so scared of skin cancer that you avoid the sun altogether, thereby failing to produce vitamin D in your body?
Although vitamin D supplements can certainly fill in the gaps on your medical chart, they’re not considered antidepressants by the medical community, nor are they a proper substitute for sunlight.
It could also affect pregnant women by leaving their newborns susceptible to contracting multiple sclerosis.
So, dear reader, do yourself a favor: ask your doctor about vitamin D supplements and be open to discussing seasonal depression as a real threat to your mental and physical health.
#2. CHASE THE SUN
Sadly, cold weather is a huge incentive to stay indoors.
If you don’t expose yourself to a healthy amount of sunlight — even if it’s just one hour a day — then you could be at risk of developing a cold case of the winter blues.
This is why it’s important to “chase the sun.”
Meaning, if there’s a room in your home with abundant sunlight in the morning, then drink your coffee or read your newspaper there.
Conversely, if you don’t have such an abundance of light at home, then do your best to catch the first rays of the morning sun outdoors.
For instance, if you have a dog, go on long walks in the morning. Heck, go on long morning walks even if you don’t have a dog!
Additionally, if you enjoy exercising indoors or at home, then consider taking your workouts outside.
A study by Harvard Health found that colder weather can actually improve your endurance:
“In colder temperatures, your heart doesn’t have to work as hard, you sweat less, and expend less energy, all of which means you can exercise more efficiently.”
#3. GET A LIGHT THERAPY LAMP
At the onset of Covid-19, when Work From Home culture became the norm, some of you upgraded your WiFi plans and retreated to windowless basements for work.
But let’s say that before the global pandemic, you were already reporting to a cubicle or a dark office where the only light available to you was the ghastly glow of overhead fluorescent lightbulbs.
Look, nothing can beat actual sunlight. But a light therapy lamp — or a lightbox — comes close.
Light therapy lamps are these nifty, panel-like gadgets that emulate the sun’s brightness (albeit to a lesser extent.)
According to the Mayo Clinic, “light therapy is thought to affect brain chemicals linked to mood and sleep, easing SAD symptoms.”
Exposure to these lamps can help keep your melatonin levels in check as you spend more time indoors and away from the sun.
At QWERTYdelight, we feel that employers who send you off to work in a cavernous, dungeon-like room should at the very least install one of these bad boys in your workstation.
But if you’ll end up footing the bill, check out this selection of light therapy lamps that’ll shine a spotlight on your seasonal depression!
#4. MONITOR YOUR SLEEP/WAKE CYCLE
Our friends over at the Sleep Foundation believe that “depression and sleep are closely connected” and that “almost all people with depression experience sleep issues.”
This is bad news for anyone who loses sleep due to seasonal affective disorder.
To catch more of those elusive ZZZs, check out QWERTYdelight’s Sleep Collection.
We cover basic practices that’ll help you build better daytime/nighttime routines and prepare you for blissful sleep.
Our eclectic collection of sleep articles covers myriad topics, from resetting your internal clock and avoiding caffeine after 2PM to our list of sleep stories that are available for FREE on YouTube (including our own sleep story, “Paradise Island.”)
#5. CONSIDER CHRONOTHERAPY
Chronotherapy is a disciplined, medical approach to treating depression (including seasonal affective disorder) by managing a patient’s circadian or other rhythmic cycles (aka internal clocks.)
It typically involves a combination of exercise, sleep deprivation, exposure to sunlight and medications to rapidly mitigate symptoms of depression.
One example of how chronotherapy helped an artist overcome her struggle with deep depression was by executing a chronotherapeutic plan at the onset of her symptoms.
For instance, whenever she felt overwhelmed by her depression, she would deprive herself of several hours of sleep overnight and stay awake through dawn.
Then, she would work on her paintings for a few hours in the morning, making sure that she did her work in a room where sunlight was abundant.
She would then take an afternoon nap for an hour or two. When she awoke, she would feel much better than before.
This is just a snippet of how chronotherapy could help mitigate symptoms of depression.
*We highly advise you to consult with your doctor or seek out medical advice before starting a chronotherapy treatment.*
#6. SWITCH YOUR MINDSET
As they say in “Game of Thrones,” winter is coming.
If you’re prone to hopelessness over things you can’t control, then you’re in for quite the depressing ride.
Keep in mind that the keyword in seasonal depression is “seasonal,” meaning “temporary, fleeting, ever-changing.”
It’s a force beyond your control.
So, here’s our best piece of advice on how to dispel seasonal depression:
If the above five practices don’t work for you, consider acceptance.
In other words, accept that you may experience a period of sluggishness and lethargy due to seasonal shifts that are beyond your control.
If you could control them, yet you allow seasonal depression to impact you negatively, then that’s on you, dear reader.
But if you can adjust your mindset to weather the storm, so to speak, especially when you know that seasonal depression is coming every winter with the wrath of a thousand angry gods, then you might be able to overcome this affliction.
This shift in mindset can equip you with the armor that you’ll need to survive the few months of seasonal affective disorder.
And it could last you until the spring or summertime when flowers are in bloom and the sun reappears in the sky.
Until then, we hope that your mental health shines with the brightness of a thousand splendid suns.