Health and Wellness

8 tips for staying positive during SAD season, from a psychiatrist

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Experiencing less daylight in the winter months, like February, can make you feel, well, kind of sad — and I don't just mean the feeling. 

As we near the end of October, we approach what is commonly referred to as SAD season, a time when seasonal affective disorder (SAD) impacts many, according to Anisha Patel-Dunn, a psychiatrist and chief medical officer of LifeStance Health, an outpatient mental health company.

"Seasonal affective disorder really is a type of depression that can last on average about four to five months," says Patel-Dunn, "For most people, it's really [during] fall into the winter."

Coupled with the lack of sun, mass layoffs and fears of a recession are contributing to the intense emotions that arise during this time of year, she adds. Critical times when SAD is the most prevalent ranges, but it's typically at its worst during late October through late February, says Patel-Dunn.

A few common symptoms of seasonal affective disorder are having a depressed mood for most of the day over the course of two weeks or more, lack of pleasure in doing things you used to enjoy and changes in energy, motivation, sleep or appetite, she notes.

Here are some tips and tools to help you power through this SAD season.

8 tips for maintaining positive mental health during SAD season

  1. Keep a structured sleep routine by waking up and going to bed at the same time each day. Try to stay consistent on weekends.
  2. Make sure you're getting healthy nutrients throughout the day and aren't eating heavy meals right before bed.
  3. Grab a coat and go outside as often as you can.
  4. Exercise. Research shows "30 to 45 minutes of aerobic exercise four to five times a week can impact and improve mood," says Patel-Dunn.
  5. Don't drink coffee or alcohol too close to bedtime.
  6. Avoid blue light from your phone right before going to sleep.
  7. Reach out to a friend or a trusted loved one to talk to about how you're feeling.
  8. Seek help from a professional if things get too heavy. "Don't struggle alone," she says.

Tools you can use to stay happy and avoid SAD

Using a 10,000 lux light box for 30 minutes each morning has been shown to help with seasonal affective disorder, according to Patel-Dunn.

You can also use sunrise alarm clocks that mimic the colors of a sunrise if it's more difficult for you to get out of bed before the sun is up, she adds.

Also consider "a routine of journaling at night, writing down what's making you anxious," says Patel-Dunn.

"I think there's an ability to, even at home, be psychologically introspective, just to have some self-awareness and know that some of these simple tools can be really helpful."

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