Ways to Manage Seasonal Depression
As we approach the autumn season in the northeast, some individuals may notice a shift in appetite, motivation, activity, energy level and/or mood. If you notice annual patterns in these types of shifts emotionally and physically, it may be helpful to consider ways of managing and preventing onsets of seasonal depression. Often these periods of low mood, low energy, low motivation and low activity occur around the same time each year and usually these shifts are in relation to changes in exposure to sunlight. As the season is changing from summer to autumn, it is encouraged that you pay attention to shifts in your daily routines and amount of time spent outside.
Here are some ways that you can manage your seasonal depression and improve your mood:
1. Let the Light Shine In
Natural light plays an important role in triggering the release of serotonin in our body, which is a key neurotransmitter that aids in the functions of mood, sleep, digestion, bone health, learning and cognition among other physiological processes. Natural light also boosts vitamin D, a critical nutrient that helps prevent bone loss and reduces the risk for different ailments.
It is important that you make your environment as bright as possible and allow natural sunlight into the space where you frequent at home or at the office. Consider opening your blinds and curtains and sitting closer to your windows as you complete your work. You might choose to incorporate mirrors on different walls as a way to reflect sunlight into different spaces around the room.
2. Move Your Body
It is important that you keep a daily or weekly exercise routine in which you incorporate a balance of aerobic and anaerobic activities to maintain healthy regulation of various internal systems. You may be tempted to skip your outside walk as it becomes darker earlier or cooler. You may find it helpful to be more prepared for the changing weather by securing outerwear that keeps you comfortable on your walk or appropriate footwear that keeps you grounded and at ease.
3. Sleep Hygiene
Sleep is an important function in managing our mood and our thought patterns. When we experience disruptions in our sleep patterns, such as early awakening or frequent awakening, we can often feel depleted and fatigued throughout the day. Sleep is an important process in which growth hormones are released in children and young adults, proteins are produced, and nerve cells repaired.
Exposure to the natural light cycles may be helpful in resetting one’s circadian rhythm. Once it gets dark out, melatonin, a natural sleep hormone, is released into the body. Consider whether your body is in tune with the natural cycle of sunlight or if you might consider adjusting your light exposure to increase or decrease how much light you experience at different times of the day.
4. Light Therapy
Light therapy is a type of treatment recommended to individuals with seasonal affective disorder and while there is still research being collected, it is said to be effective in improving mood symptoms and energy levels. The idea is that you expose yourself to a light from a light box as soon as you wake in the morning and by sitting in front of the light box, you are gaining light that is lacking from the shortened daylight hours that occur during the fall and winter months.
5. Opposite Action
As with major depression, it is important to recognize that when you notice your mood starting to shift and your energy level decreasing, it may be important to engage the power of “opposite action”. The idea is that in a moment when you are considering the best course of action, it is important that you recognize how you are feeling and what urge or action comes from that feeling.
For example, I am contemplating whether or not I want to go for a walk outside, as I noticed that it is a lot colder than I anticipated. The feeling I am having is apprehension and worry regarding my discomfort in the cold weather. My urge at this moment is to avoid this discomfort by deciding going for a walk might be a bad idea.
From here, I then have the opportunity to reflect on my initial goal for going on the walk and reflect on the consequence(s) I might have in not going on the walk. Perhaps my goal was to improve my health by getting in 20 minutes of movement in my day and a potential consequence of not going for a walk might be that I end up feeling guilty or regretful as well as negatively impacting my health goals.
From here I can actively decide that while I am feeling apprehensive about going for a walk, I can still choose to push through that apprehension and act in a way that moves towards my long term goals.
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