5 Ways To Prevent Seasonal Affective Disorder

by Kat Kuehl

Of course, we're all excited for the arrival of fall, but we're probably way less pumped about what comes immediately after it — winter. We all know that the change in seasons can cause a special kind of misery and depression. And, if the idea of snowy days and icy roads is enough to fill you with impending dread, you might want to be proactive and figure out how to prevent Seasonal Affective Disorder.

Seasonal Affective Disorder — which boasts the incredibly fitting acronym of SAD — is a type of depression specifically related to the change of seasons. Typically, symptoms start in the fall, continue into the winter, and include a lack of energy and an overall feeling of moodiness. While there is no conclusive evidence supporting a single cause of SAD, many doctors believe it is related to the lack of sunlight in the winter, which upsets your biological clock, and causes problems with serotonin — a brain chemical that controls your mood.

SAD can easily be brushed off as the winter blues. But, if you feel exceptionally melancholy during the winter months, it's worth talking over with your doctor. Or, if you want to be proactive, there are a few things you can do to help lessen the severity of SAD symptoms. While there is no known way to completely prevent the onset of SAD, managing symptoms early on can help prevent them from becoming unbearable, or worsening over time.

Curious about some methods you can use to lessen the misery of that seasonal funk? Here are five things that should help... unless you can afford to take an extended tropical vacation during the winter months. Then I highly recommend that option.

1. Try light therapy

Remember how I mentioned that experts believe SAD is related to lack of light? Well, light therapy is typically one of the first treatment options for SAD. Patients are instructed to use a portable "light box" with a light measure of at least 10,000 lux — a fancy scientific measurement for light intensity. Exposure to the light therapy for 30 minutes each day during the months with SAD symptoms is said to significantly help. See, here's where that tropical vacation would come in handy!

2. Exercise

It can be tempting to just sit inside and feel sorry for yourself in the winter months. But, staying active is important for keeping your mood up. Exercise releases endorphins, which can instantly boost your mood. So, lace up your shoes, and get your booty moving. It'll make you feel better!

3. Hang out with your friends

Resist the urge to hide in your house and binge-watch TV all winter, because isolating yourself from your social life can actually feed depression and anxiety. So, set up a fun night out with your friends, and get yourself out of the house.

4. Up your vitamin D intake

Vitamin D is known as the "sunshine vitamin," which is produced naturally in the body when rays from the sun hit our skin. But, with the lack of light in winter, many of us can have a vitamin D deficiency. Doctors don't have a conclusive answer as to whether or not vitamin D helps with the mood symptoms of SAD. However, a talk with your doctor about your vitamin D levels and whether or not supplementation is necessary can help with your general health.

5. Consider antidepressants

Light therapy can be helpful, but it doesn't work for everyone. So, antidepressants may be necessary for people with more severe cases of SAD. Many patients who frequently experience severe SAD symptoms take an antidepressant in late summer or early fall in order to attempt to ward off the onset of these symptoms. However, all other treatment options should be exhausted before exploring antidepressants.

Images: Gabriela Camerotti/Flickr; Giphy (5)