Helpful Tips For Staying Positive During SAD Season

Seasonal Affective Disorder, or SAD, is a term that comes up more regularly as the days start getting shorter and the sun all but disappears. The American Academy of Family Physicians estimates that the number of people affected by SAD is between 4% and 6%, with the condition generally found to be more common among women. However, a milder form of SAD — aka "winter blues" — could affect around 20% of Americans.

Feelings of sadness and lethargy, a lack of energy, weight gain, a change in your sleeping pattern, and low motivation to engage in things that used to bring you pleasure, are all signs that you might be dealing with SAD. Psychiatrist Anisha Patel-Dunn told CNBC that SAD is a "type of depression that can last on average about four to five months" (typically from October until the end of February). The economic and social struggles of the current world aren't helping matters.  

Mental health conditions in your family, like bipolar disorder and depression, can also make people more susceptible to developing SAD during the winter months. Likewise, factors such as living further away from the equator, where sunlight is scarcer, don't help either. While the condition itself can be serious and even require medical treatment, there are some ways you can actively try to stay positive during SAD season. 

Start preparing for winter in the fall

Psychologist Kim Burgess, Ph.D., spoke to Everyday Health about the benefits of preparing your mind early before SAD season hits — when your motivation to do anything will likely be considerably lower. "It's better to set yourself up for the winter season by starting in the fall season — doing enjoyable activities, initiating friend group chats and outings, choosing fun hobbies, and engaging in clubs or community service," she advised. 

Sticking to a healthy lifestyle that involves waking up and going to sleep at a set time each day, scheduling some time outdoors to exercise or just get some sun, and eating nutritious meals full of fruits and vegetables, are all helpful ways to keep a positive mindset. In fact, psychiatrist Anisha Patel-Dunn told CNBC that as little as "30 to 45 minutes of aerobic exercise, four to five times a week can impact and improve mood." 

Likewise, cutting back on alcohol and caffeine and spending time with others will make a big difference too. Don't be afraid to ask for support from family and friends, and even professional mental health practitioners when necessary. If you're really struggling, vitamin D supplements could help improve your mood too since a lack of the so-called "sunshine vitamin" can exacerbate SAD symptoms. 

Try light therapy or aromatherapy

In a YouTube video, family therapist Emma McAdam advocated for learning how to dress better in winter — think cozy layers, fuzzy coats, warm boots, and mittens — to combat SAD season. Dressing comfortably can make the cold more bearable. Light therapy or sun lamps can also help with SAD. It's the kind of treatment you can easily do at home, which simply involves sitting in front of a specially designed 10,000 lux lamp, placed 3 feet away from you, and spending 15-30 minutes basking in the glow.

McAdam also recommended buying a good quality large light that has a downward angle to it. Don't forget to consult with your doctor, however, before you try this treatment as certain pre-existing health conditions can be negatively impacted by light therapy. Aromatherapy is another good option, as psychology professor Ani Kalayjian, EdB, told Everyday Health. Essential oils can help with everything from sleep to mood changes and even appetite. As always, though, if you're concerned, consult your doctor.

If you or someone you know needs help with mental health, please contact the Crisis Text Line by texting HOME to 741741, call the National Alliance on Mental Illness helpline at 1-800-950-NAMI (6264), or visit the National Institute of Mental Health website