When the sun starts hitting the horizon earlier in the day, many of us get excited to pull our sweaters out of the closet and settle in for long winter nights. However, for those that may experience a decrease in energy along with an increase in the blues, this time of year could mean a long battle with seasonal affective disorder (SAD). Roughly 10 million US residents deal with this condition, while an additional 20 percent may suffer from a milder form of it. Its onset typically occurs between ages 18 and 30.
SAD is a type of depression that occurs when the seasons change, primarily in winter. Not everyone experiences the same symptoms, but the warning signs sometimes include:
- Depressed mood
- A sense of hopelessness
- Decreased energy
- Difficulty concentrating
- Altered sleep patterns
- Changes in appetite
- Lack of interest in activities you typically enjoy
In some severe cases, people with SAD even experienced thoughts of death or suicide. If you have felt any of these symptoms, it’s best to talk to your healthcare provider as soon as possible. If a diagnosis of SAD is given or if you’re feeling the “winter blues”, don’t give up hope during the cold months. There are many ways you can handle these symptoms right in your own home.
Swap Out Your Lights
Some people find relief from seasonal affective disorder by using light therapy boxes (also called light boxes for short). Sitting next to a light box for about 30 minutes a day, usually shortly after waking up, provides comparable light to a bright, sunny day. It’s important to keep your eyes open, but don’t look directly into the light box. It’s a great time to eat breakfast, check your email, catch up on work, or get your hair and makeup ready for the workday.
Although not powerful enough to mimic the daylight, some people find relief by creating a comforting or energizing space near a full spectrum bulb or daylight bulb. Think about some of your favorite outdoor activities that you’re missing in the winter. For example, do you enjoy reading outside or going for long walks? Create an inspirational reading nook with a light box or spectrum bulb, a comfy chair, and a beautiful photo of a summer day. You can also purchase a treadmill or stationary bike and place it near these mood-enhancing lights, surrounded by plants. These ideas can help give you your “being outside” fix even in the dead of winter, and can go a long way in combating seasonal depression.
Add More Life to Your Home
Speaking of adding plants, bringing more life into your home is a useful technique for managing SAD. Building a DIY greenhouse in your backyard is a great fall activity that can help you get ready for the winter months. You’ll also be able to grow vegetables and fruits year-round, which can help improve your mood since you won’t have to miss your favorite summer treats like strawberries and blackberries.
If being responsible for an outdoor garden isn’t your idea of a mood-booster, you can also bring in or buy plants for your home. You can fill the rooms you frequent with green and blooming plants, or set up a room or area in your home that can be a sadness-free retreat. Set up a yoga mat to practice mindfulness next to an exercise area; adding movement to your day will help produce endorphins and serotonin that can improve mood.
Change Your Hues
When was the last time you put a fresh coat of paint on your bedroom walls? How old are the area rugs in your living room? Take a look around you, and honestly assess the impact of your home’s color scheme. If you’re surrounded by dark or muted colors outside, you might feel the tug of depression more deeply if those are the same palates you’re surrounded by inside. Instead, paint your walls colors that inspire warmth and joy, like a cozy sunrise or a warm, light blue sky. Plus, adding a home improvement project to your to-do list can help boost your energy and creativity during a time when lethargy lurks around the corner. Studies have shown that setting, working toward and achieving goals can be a big mood booster any time of the year.
If painting seems like too daunting of a project, you can also consider swapping out your throw pillows for brighter colors, trading your dark-colored bedding for soft yellow hues, or changing your artwork and decor to mirror your favorite outdoor scenes. Also, consider framing and hanging a few pictures from your favorite vacations. Research shows that reminiscing about past times of joy can provide a dose of happiness in a blue moment.
Get in the Kitchen
Eating more fruits and vegetables is a proven method for tackling many kinds of depression, including seasonal affective disorder. One of the best ways to make healthy eating more enjoyable is to get in your kitchen and explore new recipes. Cold months lend themselves perfectly to soups, stews and crockpot recipes. Try out new ingredients, and invite your friends over to taste the results. Not only will the food feel good, but the company will, too. Even when your instinct is to avoid social interactions, having friends and family over can be the push you need to feel more upbeat and happy. What better place to gather than around the kitchen table?
If you’re going to be spending more time in the kitchen, consider your surroundings. If the room is highlighted with grey, steel appliances, consider adding pops of upbeat color and warm touches to brighten your mood. Paint the backsplash behind your sink a warm butter or khaki shade, add pops of green alongside wispy plants, and create open spaces with see-through shelving. Even if you aren’t actively noticing the colors in a room, they can still impact your thoughts and emotions.
Give Your Home Good Vibes
Giving your home good vibes will help boost your mood year-round. Surround yourself with touches of your favorite artists, musicians, and authors to get motivated and inspired during times when you might be at a greater risk for SAD.
You can purchase and install a surround sound or multi-room music system to pipe in your favorite tunes whether you’re in the bathroom or the bedroom. Upbeat music is a great mood-booster. If you enjoy outdoor activities but the lack of sun and warmth are keeping you indoors, bring the outside in. Set up a room or a corner where you can experience similar activities, like a trainer for your bicycle or some free weights to keep you in rock-climbing shape.
Most importantly, consider design schemes that will inspire a positive attitude. Put some soul into your surroundings. Choose decor that will help you build confidence, like quotes from successful people you admire, or family heirlooms that remind you of your favorite childhood memories. Start by making a list of things that you know make you smile, and then find ways to create an environment that elicits those same feelings.
While experts don’t know the exact cause of seasonal affective disorder, whenever changes come around the corner — big or small — humans have an emotional response. You don’t have to be diagnosed with SAD to feel a touch of the blues during the colder, darker months. The change in lifestyle can be exciting for some, and a struggle for others — or both. These home tips for managing feelings of depression can help anyone, any time of the year.
As a reminder, our tips are only suggestions and if your feeling of sadness persists, contact a therapist near you.