8 tips to help clients with Seasonal Affective Disorder
During the winter months, many people experience Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD). This is a mood condition similar to Depression, but it specifically occurs during a certain time of year, typically the winter. For those with SAD, the winter isn’t just marked by the days growing shorter and the weather being colder. Instead, it may be associated with feeling drained and depressed.
The good news is that there are many ways to combat SAD! If you have a client dealing with Seasonal Affective Disorder, here are a few tips you can give them to assist in their wellbeing during the winter.
1. Stay in therapy
A client in therapy with you for SAD is in the right place! Many people suffer from SAD on their own, but participating in cognitive therapy throughout the winter months can help patients maintain routines and lead to a more positive outlook. Regular mental health check-ins during the winter can help clients understand what factors affect their mood and how to cope with symptoms moving forward.
2. Spend time outdoors
Although it’s cold out, spending time outdoors can offer a mood boost. Fresh air increases the oxygen levels in our brains, leading to improved cognitive function. Going for a walk increases circulation, which calms the body’s stress response, leading to a calmer state of mind. An additional benefit to this practice is the change in surroundings. Getting out of the house and seeing a new environment can provide a mental reset. It helps us regain focus and allows us to better concentrate on tasks once we’re back in our usual environment. So even just a short walk outside each day can have noticeable benefits for mental health!
3. Keep your body active
Fresh air is important, but sometimes it’s too cold to get any significant exercise outdoors during the winter. Try to find a way to keep your body active indoors too, such as jogging on a treadmill, doing yoga, or lifting weights. Physical activity helps with SAD because it releases endorphins, which lead to an improved mood and sense of wellbeing.
When you’re depressed, getting the motivation to exercise can be difficult, so start small. Getting 10 minutes of exercise instead of 30 is still so much better than getting no exercise. And once you get the ball rolling, your motivation will likely improve!
4. Keep your mind active
When it’s cold and dreary out, the temptation to curl up and binge watch a light-hearted tv show is strong! And of course, watching tv is great in moderation and can provide comfort during a bout of seasonal depression. However, keeping your mind active and giving yourself new challenges can improve your cognitive function and provide a boost in mood.
This can look like reading a book or listening to a podcast about a topic you’re interested in, completing brain games like crosswords and worksheets, or practicing a hobby such as playing an instrument.
5. Try light therapy
Light therapy, also known as phototherapy, is a common treatment for SAD. It involves using a light box that mimics natural sunlight. The light is used for 10-15 minutes a day, but can gradually be used more if needed. This method is thought to increase serotonin levels and balance the circadian rhythm, so it’s a great starting point for treatment.
6. Engage in social activities
It’s important to avoid isolating during periods of depression whenever possible. Seeing friends and participating in activites can help to build a sense of community and increase self-confidence. Friendships can also help you to put your troubles into perspective and get advise or a listening ear outside of a therapy context.
7. Maintain sleep schedule
A solid sleep schedule is vital to good mental health. Not getting enough sleep can result in irritability, a decrease in cognitive skills, and a weakened immune system. It is recommended to set a consistent bedtime and a consistent wake up time, and stick to these as much as possible. Having a consistent bedtime trains your brain and body to fall asleep at a certain time, which allows for better rest. Keeping a consistent bedtime should also allow you get the optimal 7-9 hours of sleep each night.
8. Eat well
Eating a balanced diet helps to keep our moods stable. Make sure that you’re eating a variety of healthy foods. You can also ask your doctor about checking nutrition levels, in order to ensure that you don’t have any deficiencies that could cause or worsen your symptoms.
The MIND diet is designed specifically to care for brain health. It was created to encourage healthy cognitive function as we age, but is beneficial for brain health at any age. Making changes in your diet so that it more closely aligns with the MIND diet can contribute to better health overall, and better brain function.
Seasonal Affective Disorder affects 10 million Americans, so if your client is experiencing this, they’re not alone. Following these tips and continuing with their therapy can go a long way toward improving their mental health during the winter, and all year long!