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5 Tips for Managing Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD)

Brushing off the "winter blues" may feel harder than usual this year. It doesn't have to be.

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One could argue that there’s no shortage of things to be SAD about in the world today. Our collective mood has felt pretty dark for months now since all of our “previously scheduled programming” was abruptly and indefinitely put “on hiatus.” As if that wasn’t enough, our days are now literally getting “darker” as the clocks turned back this past weekend. Did we really need another thing to feel SAD about?

Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD) is a type of depression that usually occurs in the fall or winter when days get shorter and colder. While not everyone is affected, an estimated 10 million Americans are affected each year, and it’s 4 times as common in women than men. SAD is what many of us dismiss as the “winter blues,” — bouts of feeling moody, hopeless, low energy or sluggish. Those of us prone to it can experience any number of those symptoms and more, and if we’re not paying attention, it can get pretty dark, pretty fast.

The good news is that there are steps we can take to alleviate those symptoms and prevent them from overwhelming us and interfering with our daily functioning. Here are 5 Tips to Manage SAD during Covid-19:

  1. Spend as much time outdoors and in sunlight as you can.

Get outside! Even if it’s only for a few minutes, the fresh air and sunshine can help you feel refreshed and even clear your head from repetitive thoughts. The sunlight can also provide crucial vitamin D we tend to miss out on in the colder months. So don’t make excuses or allow yourself to be lazy. When your body seems intent on staying glued to the couch, just do the opposite and get up & get out! 

2. Maintain your routines.

Create a routine and keep it going! Creating and sticking to a schedule can help motivate you to get up & go and prevent you from dwelling on things that make you feel down. Wake up early and have a healthy mood-boosting breakfast, set an intention for the day ahead, journal your thoughts, have a daily check in by phone/text with those you love. Create your own routine that feels good to you, and maintain it daily.

3. Maintain a regular exercise routine.

Move your body! Incorporating exercise regularly in your day is a great way to raise your mood and energy levels in these cold dark months ahead. It doesn’t have to be complicated, just consistent! Take a 15-minute walk everyday (which has the dual benefit of sunlight & vitamin D too!) or start an at-home exercise routine with an app like FITON. Find what you like and commit to a consistent routine.

4. Try to connect with other people.

Make an effort to keep socializing! Ok, this one is particularly hard right now while trying to safely maintain distance in the middle of a pandemic. But maintaining relationships can boost your spirits, and there are many ways to stay connected. Do what feels comfortable to you. Of course, there are phone calls and texts. And even a quick “I’m thinking of you” text can be a great mood booster. Get creative. Virtual happy hours, video calls, take walks with friends! No matter what it is, make the effort to continue connecting consistently.

5. Practice meditation or mindfulness

Be mindful of this moment! It’s easy to get caught up on focusing on the negative aspects of winter, but meditation is a great way to learn how to better address those negative emotions before starting your day. Consistently adding this to your routine can help manage stress, overcome anxiety, improve sleep and find calm in your day. Use an app like Headspace for a guided meditation. Or simply practice breathing on your own for a few minutes each day, focusing on the breath and letting the rest go.

Whether or not you’re someone who might experience SAD this winter, finding ways to cope with stress and promote wellbeing should always be a top priority. Especially in these uncertain times, it’s important that we make the extra effort to include these simple yet effective self-care tips in our daily lives.

Be aware of any symptoms, pay attention to how you’re feeling, and seek help from a mental health professional if you notice more than just a mild wave of the blues.

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