It’s that time of year again. Folks start putting up their Christmas lights, the nights grow shorter, and seasonal affective disorder begins to impact many people who live in the northern hemisphere. Seasonal Affective Disorder, or SAD, is a variant of major depression which occurs at the same time every year and affects 1 in 20 people in the northern half of America. But with the help of nature, you can avoid seasonal affective disorder.
Characterized by depression, fatigue, hopelessness, and social withdrawal, SAD occurs most frequently in climates where certain seasons (depending on your location, worldwide) bring less sunlight. While the sun might appear less often, your chances of improving your mental well-being don’t have to go with it.
By integrating hobbies and routines that offset the effects of SAD, you can improve your overall mood and give yourself something to look forward to every day. Check out these six ways to naturally combat SAD.
1) Light Therapy
Light therapy was initially developed as a way to combat SAD. Light therapy requires a light therapy box which gives off a bright light that mimics the outdoor light traditionally supplied by the sun in sunnier climates.
By mimicking outdoor light, researchers believe that the light can actually cause a chemical change in your brain which helps reduce your symptoms. This is in part due to the short wavelength light, which mimics the wavelength of the sun, and is thought to help with mood and sleep, mitigating the symptoms of SAD.
A small randomized, double-blind, placebo-controlled, multi-center trial from 2007 looked specifically at the efficacy of a LED light therapy device in the treatment of SAD. Participants aged 18 to 65 with SAD were seen at Baseline and then again after 1, 2, 3 and 4 weeks of treatment. The results found at the trial end showed clear superiority of the LED light therapy device over the placebo condition.
Like light, the right scent can have a big impact on your mood. Aromatherapy is a holistic treatment that uses plant extracts to improve mental and physical wellbeing. One of the best scents to use in aromatherapy to improve mood and fight depression is lavender.
Lavender can improve your mood, decrease stress, and help you get a good night’s sleep. Not only that, it also acts as a brain booster so it’s good for cognitive and mental health.
3) Exercise (Outside When Possible)
Working out releases endorphins which can help mitigate the effects of SAD. Exercising outside when possible is a great way to get Vitamin D and more endorphins to fight against SAD.
In fact, many studies have found that while it has the same physical benefits of indoor exercise, outdoor workouts improve one’s mood more than indoor ones.
If you can’t exercise outside, try to work out near natural light. You could do yoga near your living room windows or choose a treadmill at the gym which gets direct sunlight.
4) Spend Time in Natural Light
While harder to come by during the winter months (especially in certain regions) it’s important to soak up time in natural light. Let natural light into your life through short walks outside with weather appropriate clothing or opening the blinds to let in natural light.
If possible, you could even plan a trip to your comfort nature spot if it’s somewhere warm like the beach.
Unsure what your comfort nature spot is? Take my free quiz to find out your top 3 comfort nature places.
Make it a habit to try and look for ways to incorporate natural light on sunny days. If you live somewhere with short days, try to take a portion of your lunch break to walk outside or eat near a window which gets direct sunlight. On days when it isn’t sunny, you can use light therapy, though nothing is as effective as natural light.
5) Journal About Your Feelings
While less direct, a great way to combat SAD and improve your mental wellness is by journaling. Journaling can improve your overall mood and help you better understand your emotions.
When journaling, you might consider shadow journaling. While it’s much easier to sweep what we don’t want to see or acknowledge into the shadows, this is not the true purpose of journaling. The purpose should be to elevate self-awareness by providing a safe passage deeper into the shadows to reveal what you need to see in yourself, in others, and in your life.
Check out my blog post on shadow journaling for resources on how to do this in a way which gets to the root of your sadness and always helps you heal instead of sitting in the sadness. If you are diagnosed with SAD, depression, PTSD, or anxiety, check with a medical professional before utilizing shadow journaling.
If you’re stuck inside all day, reading can be a mindful way to pass the time. Not only that, but it could have some mental health benefits which could mitigate the effects of SAD.
Research shows that reading can:
- Reduce stress and symptoms of depression
- Aid in getting a good night’s sleep
- Enhance neural connections (builds vocabulary, expands worldviews, etc)
- Help prevent cognitive decline and possibly lengthen lifespan
If you’re looking for a good book to read on nature therapy, check out 4 of my favorites:
No matter which strategies you choose to implement, be proactive. Try not to wait until SAD is at its worst before you engage in light therapy or practice journaling. Implement these strategies when SAD starts to show up in your life to prevent it from taking hold.
If you want even more ways to combat SAD, consider downloading my free guide to beat winter depression. This guide provides comprehensive solutions to SAD, including supplements, activities, and more.