Seasonal Affective Disorder

27 Feb 2013

depressed man15 Coping Techniques for Seasonal Affective Disorder

by Frank Salamone, CSW

Living with S.A.D. (Seasonal Affective Disorder) — especially during the oftentimes stressful holiday season — can be challenging. Here are some strategies that have worked for me over the years. I hope you find some of them helpful:

  1. Follow the light. Try using a “light box” for thirty minutes every morning, always walk “on the sunny side of the street,” and turn on every light in your house (prepare to hear an old parental voice in your head, however, reminding you that “we don’t own the electric company!”). Also, sleeping with the shades up will allow the light to wake you naturally (waking up in a dark room will only make early morning – the worst part of a S.A.D. day – much worse).

  2. Make your bed every morning. This will accomplish two things: First, it will remind you that returning to bed during the day when you get the urge to “hibernate” is a no-no. Second, it will help you to stay and feel organized.

  3. Sleep less. Get the recommended eight hours sleep, but avoid sleeping longer than that. Get up at the same time every day, including weekends. Avoid hitting the snooze button until at least March!

  4. Stay connected. Focus on face-to-face contact over Internet chatting. Make plans and keep your commitments.

  5. Do small projects. Staying productive will help your mood. Don’t let mail, dirty dishes or laundry pile up. You will only feel worse. And remember your dishes and laundry do not require you to be in a good mood. When you feel blue at holiday parties, offer to help out; I sometimes volunteer to help clear the table and wash dishes, much to my host’s delight.

  6. Be realistic about your moods. Don’t set your expectations too high, here. You’re not going to be the next Pollyanna; just try to keep from turning into Scrooge!

  7. Keep it simple. Don’t overplan, overextend or overdo – whatever this means for you. This is not the time to remodel the den, begin graduate school or promise to take your elderly aunt and uncle to the Grand Canyon! Try to limit travel plans to no more than one time zone difference – jet lag is particularly difficult for those with S.A.D. If you must travel, go somewhere sunny!

  8. Eat regularly. Notice I said regularly, not continuously! Also, try to focus on six small meals high in protein and low in “simple”carbohydrates and sugars (especially white flour, honey and sugar). Maintaining a constant blood sugar is especially important during S.A.D. season. Try to eat a protein-rich breakfast within thirty minutes of waking. Limiting alcohol intake to two drinks and drinking extra water will also be helpful.

  9. Help your friends and family help you. They will ask: “What’s wrong?” (which translates: “Did I do something to upset you?”). Don’t say: “Nothing’s wrong.” Reassure them that it’s not them, it’s you (If it IS them, then be clear but tactful). You may have to tell them, politely, that when they say things like: “Snap out of it!” or “What do you have to be depressed about?” it is not helpful. You might say: “I’m feeling a bit low today, but I’d love to hear what’s going on with you.”

  10. Allow extra time to do anything. You will be moving at a slower pace. And even basic tasks take longer when you’re feeling blue. And don’t make too many back-to-back commitments; if you must, then allow yourself some “breathing room.” Always leave at least fifteen minutes early to go anywhere!

  11. Exercise and fresh air. Try to get outside as much as possible when weather permits. Oxygen and light work wonders!

  12. Limit or avoid sleep aids. Sleeping medications, tranquilizers, valerian root and melatonin make S.A.D. much worse.

  13. Throw yourself out of the house every morning. Don’t brew your coffee at home. Go out every morning and buy your brewed coffee and something for a nourishing, balanced breakfast (And, no, a bagel or a danish does not constitute “breakfast!”). The extra cost will be worth it!

  14. Make the final rinse “cold.” Finish your shower with a final rinse of cold water. The will have an positive effect on your mood and will also close your pores to help maintain winter health.

  15. Remember that S.A.D. is physiological rather than psychological. The fact that the holidays occur during this time is coincidental, not the cause of S.A.D. Seek professional help if you spend more than a day or two in your pajamas staring at piles of mail, dishes and laundry!

Take note of what is helpful to you; create strategies of your own.

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