4 tips to help manage Seasonal Affective Disorder

CMU Counseling Center staff offer advice for self-care this winter

| Author: Logan Pellegrom

Although we love our four seasons in Michigan, fall and winter can cause many people to feel the side effects of Seasonal Affective Disorder. SAD is a type of depression that can cause symptoms including general tiredness and oversleeping, feeling sluggish, losing interest in activities you typically enjoy and mood swings.

December is Seasonal Affective Disorder awareness month and whether you are experiencing SAD or similar feelings this time of year, the CMU Counseling Center has these tips to keep your mood and motivation steady.

1. Get as much natural sunlight as possible – it's free!

Whenever possible, get outside during daylight hours and expose yourself to the sun without wearing sunglasses (but never stare directly at the sun). Sunlight, even in the small doses that winter allows, can help boost serotonin levels and improve your mood.

  • Take a short walk outdoors, have your coffee outside if you can stay warm enough.
  • Increase the amount of natural light in your home and workplace by opening blinds and drapes and sitting near windows.
  • Some people find that painting walls in lighter colors or using daylight simulation bulbs helps to combat winter SAD.
2. Exercise regularly

Regular exercise is a powerful way to fight seasonal depression, especially if you're able to exercise outside in natural daylight. Regular exercise of 30-60 minutes can boost serotonin, endorphins, and other feel-good brain chemicals. In fact, exercise can treat mild to moderate depression as effectively as antidepressant medication. Exercise can also help to improve your sleep and boost your self-esteem.

3. Reach out to family and friends—and let them help

Close relationships are vital in reducing isolation and helping you manage SAD. It may feel more comfortable to retreat into your shell but participate in social activities, even if you don't feel like it because being around other people can boost your mood. Ways such as:

  • Reconnect with old friends or start new relationships by asking them to get coffee or go for a walk through campus.
  • Reach out to someone new such as a work colleague or neighbor, for example. Most of us feel awkward about reaching out, but be the one to break the ice.
  • Join a support group for depression. Sometimes, just talking about what you're going through can help you feel better. Being with others who are facing the same problems can help reduce your sense of isolation and provide inspiration to make positive changes.
  • Take a new class, join a club or enroll in a special interest group that meets on a regular basis. Whatever you choose, make sure it's something that's fun for you and you will already have something in common with the other members.
  • Helping others is one of the best ways to feel better about yourself, expand your social network, and overcome SAD, so find an opportunity to volunteer.
4. Take steps to deal with stress

Whatever the time of year, too much stress can exacerbate or even trigger depression. Figure out the things in your life that stress you out, such as work overload or unsupportive relationships, and make a plan to avoid them or minimize their impact. Ways to relieve your stress include:

  • Practicing daily relaxation techniques can help you manage stress, reduce negative emotions such as anger and fear, and boost feelings of joy and well-being. Try yoga, meditation, or progressive muscle relaxation.
  • Do something you enjoy – or used to enjoy – every day. While you can't force yourself to have fun or experience pleasure, you can push yourself to do things, even when you don't feel like it. You might be surprised at how much better you feel once you're out and about. Having fun is a great stress buster, so make time for leisure activities that bring you joy, whether it be painting, playing an instrument, working on your car, or simply hanging out with friends.

If you or someone you know is struggling and needs help, don't wait. At CMU, we Take Care of one another and ourselves. Anyone can complete a confidential online form to request help for yourself or someone you care about. You can also check out these resources for additional assistance.