Seasonal affective disorder, or SAD, is a type of depression that occurs most often during the late fall and early winter months and lasts until spring or summer. For people in recovery from an addiction, this condition poses a serious challenge. Feelings of depression are a major trigger for relapse, and coping with them effectively is crucial for ongoing success in recovery.1
If you’re experiencing low energy, excessive sleepiness in the daytime, intense carb cravings and social withdrawal, you may have this disorder. The good news is that seasonal affective disorder is treatable with therapy or medications like bupropion and selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors. A combination of medication and therapy is the most effective treatment for SAD, according to the National Institute of Mental Health.2
In addition to medication and therapy, there are a number of effective strategies that can help you cope with seasonal affective disorder. Here are six tried-and-true techniques.
1. Try light therapy.
Light therapy is a mainstay for treating seasonal affective disorder. Bright, artificial light from a special light box replaces the diminished sunshine, and sitting in front of the light box upon waking up each day has been shown to reduce symptoms of SAD. Light boxes typically produce 10,000 lux of cool-white fluorescent light, which is around 20 times brighter than normal indoor lighting.
2. Take vitamin D.
Low levels of vitamin D are often found in people with SAD, and upping your vitamin D intake by taking supplements or sitting in the sunshine—or in front of a light box—for 10 or 15 minutes each day can’t hurt.
3. Keep the curtains open.
Seasonal affective disorder is typically worse in the morning. Let as much natural light as possible into your home as soon as you wake up, and keep the curtains open when the sun’s out during the day and evening.
4. Stick with a routine.
Maintaining your daily routine can help you cope with seasonal affective disorder by keeping you busy and active. Don’t stop going to the gym, attending support group meetings or engaging in hobbies and social activities. Hibernating can make SAD worse by making you feel lonely and isolated. Social withdrawal is also detrimental to addiction recovery.
Regular exercise can dramatically improve your mood by releasing feel-good brain chemicals known as endorphins. Exercise has been shown to be as effective as medication for treating mild to moderate depression.3 Strive to get a half hour of moderate-intensity exercise most days of the week.
6. Practice yoga or meditation.
Mindfulness exercises and breathing exercises can have a profound effect on depression and anxiety. In fact, recent research has found that meditation can actually change the neural networks in the brain to reduce stress and symptoms of depression. Both yoga and meditation, when practiced regularly, can help reduce symptoms of seasonal affective disorder and improve your overall sense of well-being.
When to Get Help for Seasonal Affective Disorder
Depression in recovery should be addressed as soon as possible. If you feel like your symptoms are reducing your quality of life and taking a toll on your well-being, talk to your therapist, physician or other medical or mental health professional. You don’t have to suffer with SAD, and getting professional help will support the healthy lifestyle central to successful recovery.