10+ Ways to Cope with Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD) Winter Blues

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6:00 AM
Post written by Natalie, a craft blogger, not a doctor.  If you have Seasonal Affective Disorder, depression or suicidal thoughts, contact professional help.  Affiliate links included in post.  
Winter photography by @chaseburch included with permission, follow him on instagram!

10+ Ways to Cope with Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD) Winter Blues


10+ Ways to Cope with Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD) Winter Blues

     I am veering off my typical crafts and DIY topic for something that is important to me and rarely spoken of.  Please help me add to the quality of the post by adding helpful comments.  We are discussing Seasonal Affective Disorder (S.A.D.) today.  

This is a topic that has impacted my life, although I do not suffer directly.  My husband has dealt with seasonal depression for as long as I have known him...although it wasn't until recently that we had a name and help for it.

     It's time to talk about it.  This is a real condition.  It affects over 10 million Americans...and another 10-20% have mild forms.  This is not something we need to ignore or pretend isn't a thing.  Let's join together, talk about it and help each other out.  Most importantly, never give up.

     Did you know there are more deaths during the month of January than any other month?  It's true, it can be a very sad and depressing month as we remember the loss of our loved ones.  We are coming down from the holiday highs and now have to get back to work, pay those bills and return to the monotony of life.  January is a real issue for a lot of people...but adding mental illness on that amplifies it.

     Approaching any mental illness from 5 angles is helpful: Physically, Mentally, Socially, Emotionally and Spiritually.  Creating balance with the mind, body and spirit is a very Martial Arts outlook to mental health.  They work together, if there is a deficit in one area, strengthening that can help balance the others.  

Do not discount the use of helpful doctors, medication, therapy, and acceptance...accept that this may never go away.  If you are a care giver to someone that suffers, check out this blog for more inspiring ideas.

If you are suffering, you are not alone.  If you love someone that suffers, you are not alone.  Here are some ways to cope:
10+ Ways to Cope with Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD) Winter Blues

1.  Sunshine!

     The fact is, there is less daylight/sunshine during the winter months and this is primarily a factor.  Getting authentic sunshine will drastically help.  Here's some alternatives if daylight isn't helping enough.
     Turn on lots of light, especially with it getting dark so early.  We installed additional ceiling lights with daylight bulbs to help simulate bright sunshine.   It is amazing how much it helps the moral of the home by having bright lights.  

Open curtains and take advantage of as much daylight as possible.  Add desk and floor lamps in main rooms to bring in additional light when the sun sets.
Happy Light 10+ Ways to Cope with Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD) Winter Blues

Use a Happy Light or Vitamin D Lamp for 30-60 minutes per day.

Set it up at your desk and slightly off to the side.  Turn it on, don't look directly at it, and continue your work while it is on.  The brightness feels like the sun in is the corner of your eye.  It creates heightened awareness and can cause jitters if used too long.  

We've used it for a couple weeks and find it has been helpful creating a sense of sunlight and summertime.  

Dawn simulator: A Sunrise Alarm can be helpful to wake you up gradually with varying degrees of brightness.  I have not personally used one of these, but have heard good things about them.  

If you have any experience with these, please leave a honest comment for the benefit of others.

10+ Ways to Cope with Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD) Winter Blues

2. Diet

     Winter time usually says goodbye to garden fruits and vegetables.  Take regular trips to the grocery store or market to buy fresh produce.  Eat lots of leafy green veggies, carrots, all the fruits...they juicier the better!  

You will be giving your body nourishment and vitamins, as well as good nutrition...but also mimicking the food you eat when the sun is shining.      

Taking supplements can also be very helpful, consult your healthcare provider for proper regimen and quantities.  Vitamin D has been great for us.
10+ Ways to Cope with Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD) Winter Blues

3. Exercise

     Get out of the house, Get moving, Get going!  It's true that exercise is great for combating depression.  Raising that heart rate, breathing fresh air, getting some sunlight...all are giant benefits.  

Go on walks.  Go swimming, that extra humidity is great!  Go to the gym.  Get on that treadmill in the corner of the room.

     The biggest issue I've seen when combating SAD or other depression, is the inability to do the things you know will help.  The complete lack of motivation to even get out of bed can be daunting.
Here's some helpful tips for motivation:  (if you have other ones, please leave a comment we all can benefit)
  • Get out of bed and put on your running shoes immediately.  Once they are on, it's a great way to get you moving.
  • Start with basic exercises like calf raises, squats and lunges to get started.
  • Walk a dog.  It's great to have a dog for motivation to get out in the morning.  
  • Get a Workout Buddy that doesn't live with you.  Commit to walking with them.  It's much more motivating when you know someone else is counting on you.
  • Get an Accountability Buddy.  Maybe you can't exercise with someone, but you can check in with them and let them know you did your workout that day.  Set a schedule and challenge each other.
  • Sign up for a Race.  Once you have paid for a race, there's a huge increase of commitment.  Start training and check in with your accountability buddy.
  • Use a training app like Nike Run.
  • Do interval training, like Jeff Galloway's Training Schedule.
  • Mix up your workouts
  • Get a stationery bike and bike around exotic places on youtube.
  • Roll out of bed and Sit on the floor and stretch
  • Create a Challenge chart and try to beat your personal records on a schedule
  • Shovel the sidewalks when it snows
  • Do yoga videos on youtube
  • Put on your favorite song and start dancing
  • Get a fitbit or smart watch and start tracking those steps
  • Set an alarm that you can't reach from your bed.  Get up to get it off and quickly make your bed.
10+ Ways to Cope with Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD) Winter Blues

Did you know that snow caves stay super warm at night?  Laying on the snow isn't so great, but as long as you are insulated, it can be really comfortable.
10+ Ways to Cope with Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD) Winter Blues

4. Weighted Blanket

     Weighted blankets are great.  Typically you want one that is 10% of your body weight.  They are great to help relieve stress, anxiety, calm down, help with sleep/insomnia.  My husband and each of my children have a weighted blanket and love them.  

They are helpful in preventing anxiety from starting, but less helpful when an anxiety attack is in the process.

They press you down into your bed and hold you tight, like a baby.  They have helped my husband sleep better and have less nightmares.  

Getting a good night sleep is important to anyone, especially those combating mental illness.  

10+ Ways to Cope with Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD) Winter Blues

Let's escape somewhere tropical!
10+ Ways to Cope with Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD) Winter Blues

5. Goal/Something to look forward to

     Having a goal or something to look forward to is crucial in coping with winter blues.  The mere hope that summer is on her way is like waiting for reinforcements to show up.  Having a sunny get-away is great to look forward to.  

Plan a southern vacation for the winter months.  However, if you are like us, budget doesn't always allow for exotic tropical vacations.
In addition to traveling, try some or all of these:
  • Plan social activities to look forward to.  Could be a night out with friends, book club, dinner at a great restaurant, birthday party, game night, go bowling or swimming, invite people over.
  • Throw a tropical party or luau!  Even if it's just for yourself, decorating with a few Hawaiian leis or seashells and making a fun dinner can do a world of good.  
  • Get working on those "SOMEDAY I'LL GET TO IT" projects.  Check around the house for things that need to get done and do them.  Patch walls, touch up paint, dust base boards, fix squeaky hinges, etc.
  • Take up Winter photography.  Get a macro lens for your phone and take pictures of freshly fallen snow, capture individual snowflakes and frosty leaves.  Take a picture of your house in every season.  

10+ Ways to Cope with Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD) Winter Blues

Send yourself flowers!
10+ Ways to Cope with Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD) Winter Blues

6. Self Care

     Self Care is super important for everyone.  Doing things that remind you of who you are.  It's easy to set aside the things you like for the monotony of life (work, school, cleaning, sleep, eat, repeat).  Do things that make you happy.

Pick up some new hobbies: crafting (lots of great craft ideas here), baking, leatherwork, chainmail, books on tape/scriptures on audio, listening to music, mechanics, video gaming, face masks, running, whip cracking, bird watching, volunteering, calligraphy, photography, quilting, blacksmithing, dancing, knitting/crocheting, hot cocoa--(trust me, it's a hobby), nails painted, reading, hand lettering, massage, get your hair done, pet a puppy!

Take the time to reinvent who you are and find the things that bring you joy.  Take a class at the local rec center or check your library for current classes...my library always has fun things going on.  Find a buddy and learn some new skills.

10+ Ways to Cope with Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD) Winter Blues

7. Essential Oils, Candles, Aromatherapy

     I love essential oils.  My most favorite is Frankincense--it is a magic oil to me.  It is wonderful for helping with anger and anxiety.  Put on drop over the heart and rub in.  It smells great and instantly calms you.  

I have tested this over and over and believe in it 100%.  I've used it on a panic attacked husband as well as an angry toddler, instantly they both calmed down.

Here's the thing, there's lots of different oils and companies around.  I'm not loyal to anyone...and I'm pretty tight budgetted, so spending $60 on a 5ml bottle of Frankincense isn't in my abilities.  Here's one I've used and love:

     Lighting candles is helpful for a couple reasons too!  If they are scented, the smell will help elevate your senses and the fire will create warmth through its flickering glow.      

Aromatherapy is a great way to freshen a space, add some outdoor scents and create amazing sensory experiences.  Get an essential oil diffuser and a basic essential oil kit and see what a difference it can make.  

I love filling my home with silver fir, sweet orange, peppermint and as mentioned earlier, frankincense.

10+ Ways to Cope with Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD) Winter Blues

8. Warmth

     Being warm is essential in the Winter time.  My husband can no longer temperature regulate, so he is always cold and it's hard for him to warm up, which makes Winter the absolute worst.  

We've gone to great lengths to make sure that he is warm.  We don't care about electric/gas bills increasing if he can make it through the Winter comfortably.

So first, a warm house.  We use a basic heater to warm the house.  We installed a wood burning stove in our basement to help with supplemental and emergency heating.  Efficient fireplaces are very nice too.  We have a couple small space heaters for specific heating needs. 

Electric blankets are perfect for cold winter months...there are even electric slippers and heating pads that work great.  Put an electric blanket under your fitted sheet on the bed and turn it on about a half hour before going to bed. 

Other warm ideas:
  • Light Candles
  • Hot Water Bottles
  • Hand Warmers
  • Take warm bath or shower
  • Flame bulbs (just offer a flicker of LED light that glows like fire but doesn't get hot...great placebo though)
  • Cold Weather Gear (make sure you have things to keep you warm outdoors; coat, snowpants, wool socks, beanie, gloves/mittens, etc)
  • Cold Weather Indoor Gear (fleece pants, slippers, warm socks, hoodies, sweatshirts, beanie, knit gloves, chair heater)
  • Drink something warm (I'm a fan of hot chocolate, but even drinking warm water will help you internally warm up)
  • Use a humidifier (adding extra moisture to the air in your home will improve sinus health and also help the heat in the house radiate and last longer)
  • Take Hot Yoga! They heat up the studio to about 105*, coupled with deep stretching it does wonders.

10+ Ways to Cope with Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD) Winter Blues

9. Schedule

     Having and keeping a routine schedule are really important to mental health, as well as overall health.  Going to bed and waking up at a good time is the first important step.  How much sleep do you need to function well?  

The answer will be different for everyone.  My husband needs about 4 hours of sleep and I NEED 9.

I feel so sad for anyone that suffers with insomnia.  I have never had a sleep deficiency or any difficulty sleeping, yet I know how important it is for me to get adequate sleep or I am so grumpy. Another part of the schedule is to prioritize things that need to be done.  

Instead of making a basic To-Do list that you can get only part way done and then shame yourself for not finishing...make a Ta-Da list!  Celebrate the things you do get done.

Get up and instantly make your bed in the morning.  This will do a few things: 1, make it harder to get back into bed.  2, help you accomplish something right from the get-go.  And 3, make your mom happy. Boom--Ta-da!    

What are some other ways that having a schedule helps you?  Please leave helpful comments below so we all can benefit.  

 As we talk about priorities, examine how much of your day is spent using media.  It may be helpful to cut out some of that screen/social media time.  There are numerous studies linked to depression and social media, so it won't hurt to limit that right away.  Set a timer and get off your media when the time goes off.      

While watching movies and shows can be fun and helpful to mental health, limit those as well.  Don't get hooked into binge watching everything.  Set limits, watch an episode or 2 each evening and then you will have something to look forward to the next day!
10+ Ways to Cope with Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD) Winter Blues

10. Spirituality

     Spirituality can be expressed in different ways.  This portion of care gives you the opportunity to get outside yourself a little.  "The Best way to find yourself is to lose yourself in the service of others" --Mahatma Gandhi. 

 As we take the time to serve others, we momentarily forget about ourselves.  Get out and serve others.  (I have a list of 101 ways to serve others here.)      

Other great ways to focus on the spirit aspect is to write in a journal.  Journal keeping is amazingly healing.  We can express our emotions, feelings and day to day events simply.  It gets those feelings off our backs and gives a safe place to express them.  Keeping a gratitude journal is immensely helpful too.

Try this: Get a current blank calendar and each day write 3 things that happened that day that you are grateful for.  This is a simple way to get started counting those blessings.  In 21 days, you will see noticeable changes about how you view the world around you.  It works, it really works!    

Reading your book of faith is wonderful.  I highly recommend reading the Book of Mormon, there is so much to feel and gain while reading.  Take time to study and ponder on things deeper than the monotony of life.

Spend time in nature.  Spend time Volunteering.  Read to children at a local school or library.  Give blood.  Help the local food bank sort donations.
10+ Ways to Cope with Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD) Winter Blues

11.  Love a Winter Activity!

Loving a Winter activity is so helpful when combating Winter blues.  If there is something just calling your name, you will want to go outside.  

Have you been ice fishing, snow shoeing, skiing, snowboarding, sidewalk shoveling, camping in a yurt, snow caving, hiking, icicle licking, cross country skiing, winter photography...

What are some things that you love to do outside in the Winter?  
My friend, @ChaseBurch is a professional snowboarder and takes amazing photography.  Follow him on Instagram for more natural inspiration.

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10+ Ways to Cope with Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD) Winter Blues

Hopefully these 10+ ways will help you or a loved one cope with Seasonal Affective Disorder.  If you are finding that you can not cope, please talk to someone and get professional help.

Emergency Hotline Numbers:

10+ Ways to Cope with Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD) Winter Blues

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Laura said…
Thank you for sharing your thoughts and experience. This is an important topic that needs to be discussed more often and more openly.
Anonymous said…
I love candles and smells. Now that the kiddo is older I can get back to them!
Khstarr2 said…
Wow. You pretty much covered everything here in this article. Great Job, Natalie. I think this is affecting more & more folks now & more often too since the weather patterns have shifted & we are getting many more storms, gloomy weather, overcast & just generally Less Sunshine in general now. The only thing I can think of besides everything you already stated is: if you can keep yourself motivated & uplifted enough to venture outside, maybe start a neighborhood pot luck/support group 1 day/ night per week to keep one another inspired & motivated to a better quality of life. This would help those who work outside of the home & even those who don't, to have something to look forward to, & to know they aren't alone & can be with like minded people/common suffers. You don't need to do potluck, it is just a suggestion. Light snacks & beverages, desserts & coffee, or a meal; & can be self supporting or sponsored by a different host each week or done in a coffee shop, restaurant or a private library room, or church basement. Or you could start one & do a potluck once a month, or not. You discuss what works for you & how well you are coping. And maybe even make a new friend(s) with someone who understands. Just a couple of ideas. Hope it helps.😀