Tips to Manage Mental Health during Winter

Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD) is a form of depression that affects 5% of US adults yearly. Symptoms of Seasonal Affective Disorder usually begin appearing in the fall or winter, and decrease as springtime comes around. They can be similar to the mood swings or symptoms people face if they struggle with depression year round. People can experience a wide range of symptoms ranging from mild, moderate to severe. Some of the changes to look for in yourself or a loved one are the following:

  • Loss of interest in activities one used to enjoy
  • Changes in sleeping habits (either sleeping not enough or too much)
  • Changes in eating habits (either not eating enough or too much)
  • Fatigue
  • Difficulty thinking, concentrating, or making decisions
  • Increase in purposeless physical activity such as pacing or a general inability to sit still
  • Feeling increasingly sad or irritable

I’m Jeremiah, and I’m a peer mentor for The Nan Project. I tend to struggle around this time of year with symptoms of Seasonal Affective Disorder. My depression is significantly worse in the winter time. I struggle with not being able to go outside as easily due to the weather, and find myself isolating myself from friends and family occasionally when I lack the energy to socialize. During the pandemic, I have attended a few outdoor events which help my mood during the summer and spring, but the lack of “Covid safe” activities available in the winter make this season particularly challenging. Virtual events can be helpful, but I personally feel more connected to people when I’m with them in person. I have multiple coping strategies to counteract my increased depression symptoms during the winter. I enjoy creating art, cleaning or organizing my room, working out, and having regular sessions with my therapist.  When I’m able to utilize my coping skills, I feel more grounded and happier than I was before I used them.

There are a variety of other ways people cope with Seasonal Affective Disorder. People find talk therapy effective, especially CBT (Cognitive Behavioral Therapy). CBT is a form of psychological therapy that has been proven to be beneficial in treating a wide variety of mental health conditions. Free meditation apps, such as Calm and Headspace, help people partake in guided meditations to help cope with SAD symptoms. Light therapy has also been proven to help treat Seasonal Affective Disorder. Light therapy involves sitting in front of a light therapy box which emits a very bright light for 20 minutes every morning during the winter. Most people see improvements around 2 weeks after starting Light therapy.

Image Source: Vantage Fit

If you are concerned about a loved one struggling with Seasonal Affective Disorder, you can help. If you notice a loved one is struggling, bring up the changes and symptoms you’ve noticed in them. It is important to emphasize that you’re not trying to criticize them, and that you want to support them if they are struggling. If your loved one confides in you, brainstorm ways you can support them on a level that is comfortable and safe for you both. This can look like weekly check-in calls, walks in the snow, or helping a friend find and access treatment.

If you or a loved one are struggling with Seasonal Affective Disorder, there is hope for treatment and better days!

Resources:

Suicide Prevention Lifeline (1-800-273-8255)

Crisis Text Line (Text “Home” to 741-741)  

Upcoming Winter Events 2022

Calm Website

Headspace Website

Light Therapy – Mayo Clinic

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