Are There Natural Ways to Beat SAD (Seasonal Affective Disorder)?
During the winter, when the days get short and sunlight is in short supply, 3% of the population develops something called Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD). This condition goes far beyond just being sad for a day. SAD symptoms include depression, oversleeping, overeating, and social withdrawal, and they can last for as long as five months or until spring rolls around.
Those affected by SAD don’t need to wait until flowers bloom to feel better, though. There are many natural ways to make the winter months much more bearable.
Go to Where the Sun is Shining
People who spend winter days in warmer, southern climates may be helping themselves more than they realize. Research of Chinese travelers showed that those that moved to a warmer climate in the winter found relief for their SAD. This method of treatment has been dubbed “tourism therapy” or “rehabilitative travel mobility.”
Get Some Light, in a New Way
Many people, however, aren’t able to move when the seasons change.
Happily, there are ways to get some of the benefits of a sunny locale. One of the most effective natural treatments for Seasonal Affective Disorder is called “bright light therapy” (BLT). Unlike tourism therapy, it can be done at home for a modest cost.
The idea is to sit in front of a bright light for a prescribed amount of time to trigger production of “happy” chemicals (serotonin) in the brain and reduce the production of melatonin, a hormone that makes one sleepy.
Regular indoor lights won’t work, even if every light in the house is turned on. Instead, a lightbox specially designed to help with SAD is needed. These light boxes are twenty times brighter than indoor lights and can be purchased online. They feature 10,000 lux of cool white fluorescent light.
To get the full benefits, the lightbox needs to be placed within eyesight in front of the user every day for twenty to sixty minutes. The Mayo Clinic recommends doing light therapy first thing in the morning, with the light sixteen to twenty-four inches from the face (or whatever the manufacturer recommends); users should just be careful not to look directly into the light to avoid eye discomfort.
Boost Vitamin D Intake
Low vitamin D levels have been found to contribute to depression, so make sure that vitamin D levels are adequate. One study found that taking a vitamin D supplement of 100,000 IU daily helped those afflicted with SAD better than light therapy.
People who want to boost their vitamin D without taking supplements can get it naturally by eating these foods:
Cod liver oil
Orange juice fortified with vitamin D
Dairy and plant milk fortified with vitamin D
Even without increasing consumption of vitamin D directly, increased exposure to sunlight helps get the natural processes going for your body to produce vitamin D on its own.
As with other disorders, counseling can help with SAD. A study found that ninety-minute sessions per week of cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) were just as helpful as thirty minutes of light therapy.
A counseling session with a nutritional specialist may help, too. Limiting sugars and starches in the diet may help to improve the symptoms of SAD. After all, eating too much of them will likely make a person feel worse.
Negative Air Ionization Therapy
Negative air ionization therapy has been around for about 100 years and has been found to be as helpful as light therapy. This type of therapy involves using air purifiers around the home that incorporate negative ions to clean the air. Cleaner air seems to positively impact depression symptoms. Negative ion air purifiers can be purchased online or in many home goods stores.
Exercise has been shown to help with symptoms of depression because it makes the body release endorphins, sometimes known as “happy” chemicals into the brain. So, getting up and moving may help with symptoms of SAD. Yoga has been found by many to be particularly beneficial for those with Seasonal Affective Disorder symptoms. A healthier body helps lead to a healthier mind, after all.
Work on Human Contact
Connecting with other people is an essential element of mental health—and it’s good to do, even when it feels like the last thing a depressed person wants to do. Here are some ways to make those connections:
Text or call a friend
Start a meme war in a family group chat
Go to the park and say hello to people walking past
Chitchat with the checkout person at the grocery store
Go to dinner with someone
Have lunch with coworkers
Volunteer around the community
Visit a nursing home and spend time with some people who live there
A positive outlook is another thing that seems impossible when someone is at a low point, but it can greatly benefit mental health. According to the Mayo Clinic, identifying—and changing—negative thoughts can help:
Blaming oneself when something goes wrong
Focusing only on the bad things
Imagining the worst thing that can happen
Making everything either good or bad instead of considering the complexity of the situation
Trying to make everything perfect
Blaming others for something that is self-caused
Thinking of all the things to be done instead of acting on them
Magnifying small problems
Instead, try these techniques:
Examine one’s thoughts throughout the day. Are they negative? How can they be turned into more positive ones?
Try to let in more laughter. Watch a comedy show in person or online. Join a funny meme group on Facebook. Have a chat with a funny friend. Find the humor in everyday things.
Avoid people who focus on “what’s wrong” in the world and associate with people who are more balanced and optimistic.
Be good and nice—to oneself. Try self-encouragement or pep talks. Since most people wouldn’t call other people ugly or stupid, they shouldn’t say mean things to themselves either.
Do a social media cleanup. Unfollow accounts of people who are constantly mocking or criticizing others. Follow positive people and accounts that make you feel good.
Stop doomscrolling or endlessly flipping through social media feeds or news channels that are filled with negative news. Find things to do that are more pleasant and positive to occupy one’s time.
Focus on gratitude. What are some things to appreciate in daily life?
*Alina Bradford is a safety and security expert that has contributed to CBS, MTV, USA Today, Reader’s Digest, and more. She is currently the editorial lead at SafeWise.com.