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7 Ways to Deal With Seasonal Affective Disorder

February 21, 2024

If the shorter days and colder weather have you feeling down, you’re not alone.

Whether it’s a standard case of the winter blues, or something more serious, there are things you can do to keep seasonal affective disorder at bay.

We asked two primary care behavioral health clinicians at Hartford HealthCare Medical Group for their insight.

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The winter blues is normal.

Waves of low moods and decreased energy come with the winter blues. Although you may have less energy, you continue caring for yourself and your family, while working and caring for your home.

“If you find yourself sleeping more or spending more time binging Netflix than socializing with your friends and family, that’s a sign you have a case of the winter blues,” says Tina Grisco, LCSW, primary care behavioral health clinician.

But seasonal affective disorder is different.

On the other hand, seasonal affective disorder can make you feel consistently down throughout the day, making it hard to enjoy activities you once loved.

“You might experience low energy levels, sleep more than usual, have cravings for high-carb foods, overeat, and tend to isolate yourself from others,” says Christine Durant, LCSW, another primary care behavioral health clinical.

> Related: Happy Fall! But for Those With Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD), Not So Much

7 ways to deal with the winter blues

Grisco and Durant team up, offering seven tips to prevent the winter blues and SAD from taking over during the colder months.

  1. Go outside. A little exercise goes a long way. Bundle up with your boots, hats, gloves and scarves, and take a walk.
  2. Plan healthy meals. Prepping your meals can help you avoid sugary cravings. Shop on the outside aisle of the grocery store, buying fresh vegetables and meats and incorporating more foods with vitamin D.
  3. Limit alcohol intake. Alcohol is a depressant and can increase your symptoms, decrease your motivation and leave you feeling worse the next day.
  4. Plan a face-to-face hangout. Even if you meet for a quick coffee, socializing with friends can help improve your mood. Avoid just texting or social media as ways of connecting.
  5. Eat lunch with your co-workers. Lunch time can offer a great opportunity for face-to-face interaction. Avoid working through lunch or hiding out in your office.
  6. Try a new hobby. Learn something new over the winter – hit the library, craft store or even your local roller rink.
  7. Routine, routine, routine. Keep structure within your days. Designate a regular wake-up time, bedtime and planned activities throughout the day. Start by mapping out a plan for the day the night before and check off each task or activity you complete.

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When to seek professional help

Knowing when to seek professional help is important when you’re dealing with mental health. Consider reaching out to a behavioral health therapist or primary care provider or exploring light therapy when:

  • Your symptoms last 2 weeks or more
  • Everyday tasks become overwhelming, resembling a climb up Mount Everest
  • Feelings of tearfulness, anger or guilt make life feel exceptionally challenging
  • Overeating and significant weight gain become prevalent

Your primary care provider can help.

Your primary care provider is a good first-stop for any mental health needs. They can check for issues, like low Vitamin D levels, and discuss whether medication could help alleviate your symptoms.

Some practices also offer behavioral health specialists who can offer support for those struggling with mild to moderate mental health issues.

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