5 Ways to Beat Seasonal Affective Disorder

seasonal affective disorder chicago

Seasonal Affective Disorder … Winter Depression

By: Greg Harms, MS, LCPC, CADC, NCC

Do you live in Chicago and wonder sometimes if you have Seasonal Affective Disorder? If so, you would not be alone. Many of our Chicago clients contact us during the winter months because of struggles with wintertime depression – commonly referred to as SAD or winter depression.

There are times when our winters are just brutal, offering single digit temperatures, soul-killing extended commutes through blizzards, and the hideous slushy gray mounds of polluted ice that linger into May.

No wonder so many of us struggle with Seasonal Affective Disorder.  During winter in Chicago, it’s all about survival! However, no matter how many years you may have dealt with it, it is never too late to beat it.  Following these 5 steps can help you minimize the depression and maybe even enjoy this time of year.

5 Ways to Lower Anxiety Through Action

1) Daily Physical Activity

When we get depressed, it is natural to want to slow down, stay home, and lay on the sofa or in bed vegging on mindless TV.  However, this physical inactivity just makes the depression worse.  Getting up and moving tells our brain that we are not depressed, because depressed people don’t do this and it stimulates the production of endorphins which help to raise our mood.

In order to get this benefit, we don’t have to run a marathon or start pumping iron.  20 minutes of brisk walking is enough to battle depression.

Of course, during this time of year finding a place to walk where you won’t slip on ice or get frostbite can be challenging.  Stopping at a mall, Target, or Wal-Mart before or after work can overcome this as they provide a warm safe environment to do laps.  Just be sure you don’t stop to browse until you’re done with the walk, you need 20 minutes of continuous activity.  Waiting until you’re done can also help to reduce impulse purchases!

2) Regular Sleep

When we’re depressed, we just want to lie in bed. However, this throws our sleep schedule off and can make us even more depressed as our bodies are unable to repair and rejuvenate on a regular schedule.  Get up and go to bed at the same time every day, even on weekends.  Avoid napping during the day.

If you go to bed and it takes more than 30 minutes to go to sleep, or if you wake up in the middle of the night and can’t go back to sleep, get out of bed and go do something, such as the dishes or some dusting.  Don’t return to bed until you’re tired and think you can fall asleep within 30 minutes.

This might be difficult for the first couple of nights, but your body will quickly adjust and learn that it sleeps when it is in bed. Who knows, you may even be able to sleep in a a way that let’s you recall your dreams!

3) Minimize Alcohol, Tobacco, and Other Substances

When we feel depressed, we want to do whatever we can to feel better.  For many of us, a glass of wine or a cold beer seems like it might help us feel better.  However, alcohol is a depressant and ends up just sapping even more of our mental and physical energy.

Drink some tea or hot chocolate instead.  Smoking has also been shown to be highly correlated with depression, likely due to the speed at which nicotine wears off and throws the brain and body into withdrawal.  This may be a great time to consider quitting.  Other substances can cause significant damage to the body and brain as well as trigger anxiety-inducing legal problems which can escalate depression.

The short term good feeling that can come with substance use is often quickly replaced by even worse depression and long lasting problems.

4) Volunteer For a Cause You Care About

When we get depressed, we often withdraw.  The cold and ice just make it even easier to stay in and keep to ourselves.  Getting out and doing something that matters is a great way to overcome this and help yourself feel better.

Think about what you are passionate about – animals, music, helping the homeless, political advocacy, etc., and find ways to volunteer.  Many organizations are happy for any help they can get and don’t require a long term commitment, so you can find something that fits your schedule.

Getting out and interacting with others while doing something good even a couple times a month can really minimize depression.

5) Engage in Daily Mindfulness

Research has shown a strong link between what we think about and how our body responds.  Think about a time you were driving and almost got into an accident.  Notice how just thinking about that speeds up your heart rate, tenses your muscles, and quickens your breathing.

You weren’t in the accident or even in the car, but thinking about it brought about a bodily reaction.  Use this tendency to your advantage and spend 20 minutes doing some deep breathing and visualize yourself lying on a beach.

Imagine feeling the sun on your skin and the sand underneath you, hear the waves and seagulls, and smell the salty air.  Give the scene as many details as you can.  Set the timer on your phone, go somewhere where you won’t be interrupted, and give yourself 20 minutes a day at your special beach.  Within just a couple weeks you should have a noticeable improvement in your mood.

Seasonal affective disorder affects a large number of people every year.  If you are one of them, make this the year you finally beat it.

No one technique works for everyone, so try a few of these together.  The more you do, the better you are likely to feel.  In addition, talking to a counselor can help to speed up the process and give you even more ideas of things to try.

Reach Out for Support

If left unchecked, Seasonal Affective Disorder can interfere with your normal activities. This is why it is important to reach out for support and guidance when you are really feeling blue. A great way to help yourself if you think you are dealing with SAD is to talk to a therapist. All of the Chicago therapists here at 2nd Story are familiar with winter depression and want to help be part of your wellness solution for change.

Thanks for stopping by 2SC!