Ask Dr. Brandi Anything: What can I do about seasonal depression?

Dear Dr. Brandi – For the past few months, I’ve been having a hard time feeling motivated and enjoying things that I normally love. I go to work and take care of my responsibilities, but I feel like I’m constantly in a bad mood. Is it possible that I have seasonal depression? Is there anything I can do about it until the season changes?

Seasonal affective disorder (SAD) – commonly referred to as seasonal depression or winter depression – impacts roughly 10 million Americans yearly. Trust that you are not alone. SAD is a form of depression triggered by the change of seasons. Typically, it flares up in the Fall and lasts through the winter. The exact cause remains unknown, but the reduced sunlight’s impact on our brains during winter is believed to be a contributor.

SAD is characterized by a low mood, irritability, a loss of pleasure in normal activities, feelings of despair or anxiousness, and difficulty concentrating. If you are experiencing these symptoms and suspect you have SAD, please contact your primary healthcare or mental health provider for further support. In the meantime, here are some tips for navigating this difficult time of year.

  1. Get as much sunlight as possible. Make the most of daylight hours by going outside during the day. Incorporate short walks during the afternoon and open the windows to your home to take advantage of the natural light while indoors.
  2. Make time for social activities. Find the motivation to make and keep social plans. Although it may take some effort to convince yourself to socialize, bonding with others is a great way to boost your mood.
  3. Exercise regularly. Working out releases endorphins and serotonin, chemicals proven to enhance your mood. Going to the gym can be challenging when the weather is bad, but thankfully there are many online training videos. Incorporating 30 minutes of exercise, 3-5 times per week can have a significant and positive effect on how you feel.
  4. Eat a balanced diet on a regular schedule. Drastic spikes or dips in glucose levels can cause you to experience irritability, difficulty concentrating, and tiredness which can contribute to your low mood. Growing evidence indicates a link between glucose levels and mood disorders, highlighting the importance of managing glucose levels for mental health purposes. Eat balanced meals (protein, fiber, and carbohydrates) at regular intervals to help your body maintain a stable glucose level throughout the day.
  5. Enhance your living space. SAD lamps offer light therapy by mimicking the sunlight and tricking the body into thinking it is a warmer season. Consider investing in one for the darker months, especially if you work remotely and are spending more time at home. Also consider adding aromatherapy candles or an oil diffuser to disperse mood boosting scents ( e.g. jasmine, vanilla, and lavender) into your space.
  6. Write in your journal. A daily journaling practice such as morning pages or responding to a prompt is a great way to help you work through tough moments. Writing can help you understand your feelings and thoughts and help you gain some clarity.
  7. Take a vacation. If possible, consider changing environments, even if just for a weekend. Going on vacation does not have to involve a long flight or an expensive trip. Sometimes just getting away for a few days can change your outlook on life. It’s a bonus if you can travel to a warm and sunny place.

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  • Brandi Sinkfield

    Dr. Brandi, is a Board-Certified Anesthesiologist, who was inspired by her mother, a registered nurse who graduated with a degree in information technology. Through tough love and support from her father, extended family, and friends she attended Case Western Medical School and received her M.D. She completed residency training at Cleveland Clinic and dual fellowship training at Stanford Anesthesiology in Perioperative Management and Digital Health. Growing up she experienced the lack of transparency, shame and secrecy surrounding women’s health and body confidence driving her to imagine a pathway for her own daughter and other women to access information that empowers them and inspires confidence.