While many people love the start of fall, for those with Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD) fall usually means the start of their SAD symptoms are just around the corner. With shorter days, less sunlight and colder temperatures many people who struggle with SAD may notice symptoms as early as October (if you live in the northeast region of the United States). If you struggle with SAD here are a few things you can do to be better prepared and better manage your SAD symptoms:
- See your doctor: Do not wait until your symptoms become severe. As soon as you notice your SAD symptoms beginning, get in to see your doctor so that appropriate medication changes can take place. Your doctor will also be able to check your vitamin D levels (as low vitamin D is a known link to depression) and rule out any other medical issues that could be contributing to your symptoms.
- Start lightbox therapy: Lightbox therapy is an evidence-based way to improve mood for those who struggle with the winter blues. Again, do not wait until your symptoms are severe. Use your lightbox twice a day once you notice your SAD symptoms beginning to develop.
- Optimize the natural light: Try to get outside at least twice a day for a walk in the sunlight. Walking in the morning before work or getting outside for a brisk walk at lunchtime is a good idea. Ideally you want to walk for at least thirty minutes but work with whatever time you have. Any natural exposure to the sunlight is better than none. If you work from home, or when you are home during the weekends, make sure your blinds or curtains are fully open to allow the most sunlight in.
- Increase your exercise: For those who struggle with SAD, engaging in exercise is a natural way to combat SAD symptoms. However, it can be hard to find the motivation to exercise once it starts to get cold outside. To stay motivated about working out during the winter try joining an intramural sports league or sign up for an event you can train for. If you’re very adverse to the cold try a hot yoga class or swimming in a warm indoor pool. If you’re struggling with leaving the house to workout YouTube has plenty of free exercise routines to follow at home.
- Begin a more rigid sleep schedule: Healthy sleep hygiene can be very beneficial to people who struggle with SAD. Get up at the same time in the mornings and go to bed at the same time each night—including on the weekends. If you need to take a nap during the day make sure to set an alarm and do not let yourself sleep for more than an hour.
- Plan a winter getaway: If possible, plan a winter vacation to a warm location for at least a few days. Planning in advance will help you get a good deal and give you something to look forward to. If you’re on a budget see if you can stay with a family member or friend who lives in a warmer location. If you’re able to continue working from your vacation location, you may even be able to stay for an extended time.
- Start counseling: Counseling can help you learn other coping techniques to cope with your SAD symptoms and help you to formulate a specific plan that works for you.