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How to Get Your Seasonal Affective Disorder Under Control

Robyn Exton

Nov 26, 2021

How to Get Your Seasonal Affective Disorder Under Control

For those with Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD), otherwise known as Seasonal Depression, the winter months can be challenging. This time of year is colder and darker, and that can take its toll on anyone. But there are ways you can make things a little easier, and maximize your mental health and wellbeing over winter.

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What is Seasonal Depression?

Seasonal depression is a mental health issue that causes depression that gets worse depending on the seasons. Most commonly, people experience depression in the darker, colder months. But some people find their symptoms are worse in the summer and get better in the winter. 

The symptoms of SAD are similar to that of other depressive disorders. This can include feeling low, losing interest in activities you usually enjoy, being more irritable, sleeping much more than usual, and lacking the energy to do your usual day-to-day activities.

Why Does It Happen?

While the causes of SAD are still not fully understood, it is widely believed by medical professionals that it’s linked to the lack of sunlight in the winter months. Not getting enough sunlight can mess with your body’s internal clock, which in turn messes with your sleep pattern, routine, and energy levels, causing the symptoms associated with SAD.

It is also believed that the lack of sunlight can increase the production of melatonin, the hormone that tells the body its time to sleep and makes you feel drowsy. It can also affect the production of serotonin, a chemical that affects mood, appetite, and sleep, often linked with other mental illnesses and forms of depression.

What Does This Mean If You’re Queer?

In general, LGBTQ+ people experience mental health issues at higher rates, because family rejection, trauma, and isolation can affect your mental health and make you more likely to experience mental health problems. This means SAD is more likely to affect queer people than the general population as well.

Holiday Stressors for LGBTQ+ People

The holidays can be a stressful time for many queer people, particularly those who aren’t accepted by their families. It can feel like everyone is spending time with their families except you, and can feel isolating if you can’t or don’t want to see your family. Many LGBTQ+ who haven’t come out to their families can also find the holidays a difficult time as they have to go back into the closet or pretend they are something they’re not while they’re with their families. If this is you, you’re not alone.

Ways to Cope with SAD

SAD can feel difficult to navigate for anyone, but there are ways you can manage the symptoms and help you get through the hard times. There are plenty of resources out there specifically for trans people, bisexual people, or LGBTQ+ people in general. But always remember that if things get too tough and you find yourself in crisis, it’s vital to reach out to a healthcare professional, mental health worker, or loved one who can support you in getting help. There’s no shame in asking for help.

Practice Breathing Techniques

There are lots of different breathing techniques that can help you to get through difficult moments or calm the anxiety you may experience as a result of SAD. They can help to slow your heart rate and your mind, to help you relax and move forward. There are plenty of resources a quick Google search away, from longer meditations to quick fixes to calm you down at a moment’s notice. Think about practicing a few techniques at home and finding which ones work best for you, so you can feel prepared for the winter months, or specific stressors coming up like the holidays.

Get Outside

A lack of sunlight is one of the key causes of SAD, so getting outside can help you get some sun and some exercise, and fresh air at the same time. If you don’t feel up to much, just go and sit in your garden for five or ten minutes and take some deep breaths. If you can, go for a walk or get some exercise outside. It’s a great way to clear your mind, get some space to process your thoughts and feelings, and help you feel more energized and ready to take on the day. Remember to wrap up warm!

Use a Light Box

A light box or SAD lamp works by simulating sunlight and encouraging your body to produce more serotonin and the chemicals you miss out on in the darker months. You can purchase them online for fairly cheap from a range of shops, including Amazon. Most of them have timer settings for 15, 30, 45, and 60-minute increments to give you a quick boost during the day. Put it on your desk while you’re working or sit in front of it and meditate or read.

Move Your Body

Exercise is a great way to help your mental and physical health at home. While it can feel daunting when you’re depressed or feeling low, it’s a great way to get your blood moving, take your mind off things and get endorphins to help lift your mood. If going to the gym or for a run feels too much, just go for a short walk, have a little dance in your bedroom, or do some light stretching. Just move your body in whatever way you feel you can, and it can help lift you out of your funk.

Connect with Family and Friends

A good support system is vital for navigating any of the harder times in life, or any mental health issue. Many people have a great network of family, friends, or loved ones around them, but when they’re struggling, they don’t think to reach out. Even if you’ve never asked someone for support before, most people are willing to make the effort to help a friend through a difficult patch. It can feel scary at first, but it will help to strengthen and deepen your relationship, as well as give you someone to lean on. 

It can also be difficult to know what support to ask for. If you feel you need it, you can ask them to help you get in contact with a healthcare professional, or find resources to help you. It can be helpful just to know there’s someone there you can talk to if you need it, or even just sit and watch TV with so you don’t feel alone. Loved ones are also great for practical support. If you struggle to get out of bed or cook meals when you’re depressed, let your support system know that. Then when you’re having a hard time, they know that they can support you by bringing a healthy meal or taking you out for a walk.

When to Talk to a Mental Health Professional

If things become overwhelming, difficult to manage, or start negatively impacting your day-to-day life (like preventing you from going to work or school, eating or sleeping properly, or engaging in your usual activities), it might be time to talk to a professional. This can be quick, short-term support like calling a helpline or the LGBTQ+ switchboard – or seeking longer-term professional support. There’s no shame in asking for help and doing what you need to do to feel better. 

Speak to your doctor or reach out to a mental health charity. They can offer talking therapies like cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) or counseling, medications like SSRIs or beta-blockers, or resources that can help you to manage your symptoms and get through the winter. If you find the idea scary or daunting, ask a loved one to reach out for you or help you seek support. If you’ve tried to seek help before and it hasn’t worked, don’t be afraid to try again and reach out to someone different. Sometimes it takes a few tries to find the right support.

Learn More with HER

Sometimes, it can help to feel less alone if you have a community of LGBTQ+ people around you who understand what you’re going through. If you don’t have this, try connecting with people through HER. The Communities tab lets you find people who share your identities, hobbies, or backgrounds so it’s never been easier to find like-minded individuals. You never know, they could become your support system or chosen family when you need it the most. Whether you’re looking to date, hook up, or build your community, you can find it on HER.

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Robyn Exton

Robyn is the CEO & Founder of HER. Find her on Twitter.

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