With the cold weather months upon us, darkness creeping in earlier and earlier, and less daylight hours available, it is important to address the topic of depression and more specifically, Seasonal Affective Disorder. I get asked often by my clients what they can do to help them with the “funk” they feel during the dark and cold winter months, their low mood and energy levels, and even if Seasonal Affective Disorder is a “real thing” and how to treat it.

Per the DSM-V, Seasonal Affective Disorder is not an actual diagnosis, but rather it can be diagnosed if the criteria for Major Depressive Disorder are met and then clarified with the specifier of “with seasonal pattern.” This means that the criteria for Major Depressive Disorder are met and there is a regular pattern in the onset of symptoms during a certain time or season of the year, there is a full remission of symptoms during the other seasons of the year, there have been at least two episodes to demonstrate a relationship to a particular season or time of year, and the seasonal major depressive episodes substantially outnumber the nonseasonal episodes during one’s lifetime. It is interesting to note also that there has been a prevalence of seasonal major depressive disorder based on latitude and age, in such that living in areas of higher latitudes and younger persons have higher risks of winter depressive episodes.

So what can you do if you feel like you are frequently in a “funk” or have symptoms of depression during the winter months? Below are some helpful tips and treatments to try.

  1. Therapies- Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT) and Light therapy are often recommended to help with seasonal major depression. CBT is a form of talk therapy that focuses on changing negative thought and behavioral patterns into more positive ones in attempts to decrease the symptoms of depression associated with the negative thoughts or behaviors. Light therapy is form of therapy in which the individual is exposed to bright light by using a light box in attempts to mimic the effects of natural sunlight.
  2. Go to bed and wake up earlier- make the times you go to bed and wake up earlier so you will be able to utilize and enjoy more of the daylight time and maximize your exposure to sunlight. Create a new schedule and stick to it.
  3. Keep up healthy habits- continue to eat right, get enough sleep, drink enough water, exercise, etc. All of these healthy habits can help to increase your mood and decrease stress, anxiety, and symptoms of depression.
  4. Take Vitamin D- Vitamin D is a supplement which is often low during the winter months due to the decrease in exposure to light. Try adding a daily supplement (please also talk to your doctor before taking any new drugs or supplements to make sure they are safe for you).
  5. Make plans and engage in activities you like- having something to look forward to or participating in an activity you enjoy can help to keep your mood up. Make plans with friends and family, volunteer, take a class, go on a vacation, try a new hobby or workout, read a book you have always wanted to read, see a movie or show, etc. Find something that interests you or lifts your spirits and do that, and do it often.

Feeling down or in a funk is a common complaint among people during the winter months, even more so if you live in an area where the winters are cold and unforgiving. Hopefully with these tips and treatments, you will be able to improve your mood and enjoy the season. If you feel you are struggling or have a lower mood during a specific time of year, please contact Symmetry Counseling today to make an appointment with a therapist who can help you.