C’mon snap out of it. It’s all in your head. You have nothing to be upset about. Despite all the rationalizations I can summon, seasonal depression descends upon me in a dark, dismal cloud of doom every Fall. It’s been happening for years like clockwork. Every October, the sun departs and takes with it my energy, my optimism and my overall happiness. Theories abound for the causes of Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD), but many scientists believe that the lack of sun throws off our circadian rhythm and increases melatonin levels, leaving us lethargic and uninspired. And if you’re already genetically hardwired for depression—like yours truly—the transition into the winter can feel like life just ripped a month out of the calendar and blew its nose with it. But there is a method to overcoming the madness and taking SAD down a notch.
Step 1: Sun Yourself Daily.
Soak up as much sun as possible. Get outside and play everyday, no matter the weather. Add vitamin D supplements to your daily diet and consider light therapy, using a special lamp that mimics the sun’s rays. According to Dr. Ritsaert Lieverse, a psychiatrist at the VU University Medical Center in Amsterdam, light therapy has been shown to fight depression symptoms as effectively as antidepressants. So start fighting SAD by lighting up your life.
Step 2: Suffer.
Rigorous exercise releases endorphins in the brain, so go to your pain cave. Puddle sweat on the gym floor. Make your lungs scream for air. At the very least, go for a run. “The most tangible example of exercise stimulating certain brain chemicals is the runner’s high that many athletes report experiencing once crossing a certain threshold of exertion while running,” explains Dr. David Muzina, the founding director of the Cleveland Clinic Center for Mood Disorders Treatment and Research. “Endorphins are our body’s natural morphine and, when released by special glands in our brains, they can produce a sense of well-being or joy and also decrease pain levels.” So push your body to the limit and unleash those endorphins on your mind like a pack of cuddly puppies.
Step 3: Lose the Booze.
According to the National Institute of Mental Health, there is often a direct correlation between SAD and drug and alcohol abuse. In other words, SAD has a life preserver strapped snugly around its ugly head, so don’t expect to drown it out by drinking. Booze will only turn your flickering flame of depression into a five-alarm blaze.
Step 4: Connect.
As with most cases of depression, SAD prompts people to isolate themselves, as if the cure is somehow going to be found in the dark hobbit hole of their personal hell. But do not retreat. Instead, write out a list of five people who make you laugh, and connect with one of them each day of the week. Whether it’s a phone call or a coffee, human interaction jostles us out of our heads and provides a reprieve from the gloom. “For many people, it helps to have a coach to guide you through the process,” adds Dr. Rosenthal. “A good therapist will help.”
Step 5: Meditate…or at least attempt it.
“People with SAD have a reduced ability to handle stress, which can push them deeper into depression,” writes Dr. Rosenthal. “One of the most effective ways to reduce stress is meditation.” While many cringe at event thought of meditating, it’s the most readily available approach to fighting SAD. Ten minutes can change an entire day. Try meditation apps like Headspace to guide you through the process. Of if you just can’t sit with yourself for ten minutes, opt to taking a yoga class with Dr. Rosenthal says can have the same effect.