Don’t Be SAD – Avoiding Seasonal Depression

We’ve been talking about the holidays for the past few weeks, including how to manage the stress of the hustle and bustle, and how lighting candles against the dark can remind us to keep hope alive. For many people -care recipients and caregivers alike – the winter holidays are not always joyful, however. The shorter days and diminished sunlight cause seasonal depression, which can lead to stress, ill temper, and exhaustion.

ART - Dont Be Sad

We experienced this first-hand in my family. When my grandmother was nearing the end of her life, and had been living in a care home, she lost the ability to enjoy holidays with us, partly because the lack of sunshine affected her mood and exacerbated her dementia. As soon as the sun was low enough that streetlight began to flicker on she would become agitated and beg to “go home,” even if she wasn’t entirely certain where home was.

But seasonal depression, and full blown seasonal affective disorder aren’t limited to just our loved ones with memory failure. As caregivers, the darker, shorter days can affect us as well. There are things we can do to prepare for and manage our winter blues.

Here are five things we can do to combat seasonal depression in ourselves and others:
  • Go Outside
    Taking a walk or going for a run is great if you’re capable, but if you (or your loved one) are mobility-impaired, just sitting outside is incredibly beneficial. We used to bundle my grandmother into layers of scarves and sweaters and sit on the porch with her, even when it was cold outside. Fresh air does a lot to lift your mood, and sunshine is a natural source of vitamin D. (Just remember that you should use sunscreen, even in winter.)
  • Boost Your Vitamin D
    While vitamin d isn’t a wonder drug, studies have noticed that people with SAD (seasonal affective disorder) tend to be deficient in that vitamin. Taking supplements is one way to improve this but eating foods rich in vitamin d – fish, eggs, and dairy – is also helpful.
  • Keep a Journal
    According to the University of Rochester Medical Center, journaling helps you identify the things that trigger depression, and can assist you in prioritizing your tasks. Also, writing down your thoughts can help purge negative feelings from your brain.
  • Stick to a Schedule
    Since SAD can affect your ability to sleep at night, so sticking to a schedule of going to bed and getting up at the same time every day helps prevent sleeplessness, and also keeps your body on track. It’s also important to have meals at regular intervals. We tend to snack more during the winter, either because we are bored, or because we’re awake at odd hours. The Mayo Clinic says that seasonal weight gain is often caused by not keeping a “normal” schedule. Limiting alcohol is also helpful.
  • Be Social
    Holiday gatherings – even if it’s just the annual party in the office cafeteria – are more than just excuses to break out our favorite deviled egg recipes. One of the causes of SAD is not the loss of light, but the isolation that comes from staying at home during colder weather, or not wanting to drive in the dark. Socialization helps keep us and our moods upbeat. If you can’t go out, consider using Skype, Zoom, or Facetime to connect with friends and loved ones.

Estimates say that over half of us will experience some kind of winter depression in any given year. By knowing what triggers it and how to combat it, we can focus on keeping the holiday season truly happy.

1 thought on “Don’t Be SAD – Avoiding Seasonal Depression”

  1. These are great tools to help during those dark days. Especially such a simple thing as “going outside.” Most of us are huddled over the computer for hours a day and forget to go outside and smell the roses for a while.

    I appreciate the reminder that the days are darker longer and it may take more effort to manage our “winter blues.”

    With appreciation

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