While seasonal affective disorder is often the butt of a hackneyed Portland joke—yeah, it rains here a lot! Ha ha! So much rain! So depressing! No need to move here!—winter depression is all too real. Symptoms are identical to major depressive disorder, and include weight changes, sleeping troubles, fatigue, loss of interest in activities, feelings of guilt and worthlessness, diminished concentration, and even thoughts of death. (Not so funny, eh?)
We asked Ashton Tart, PMHNP, of Zoom+ Brain, to share her top tips for the many Portlanders battling seasonal affective disorder this winter. Here’s what we learned:
- Go outside. “My patients hear this from me all the time,” Tart says. “We’re just not meant to stay inside all the time, and our brains don’t respond well to being cooped up constantly, so bundle up and get out there, even when it’s gray and wet. Even a short walk counts!”
- Get lit. “Awaken from sleep with light, using a timer to turn on a light in the bedroom,” suggests Tart. “Enhance indoor lighting with regular lamps and fixtures, and turn them on regularly during the day.”
- Sleep well. “Keep a regular sleep schedule, waking and going to sleep at the same time each day,” Tart advises. “Avoid caffeine after lunch and alcohol after dinner. Avoid smoking, especially in the evening. Stop using all screens (TVs, cell phones, tablets) 2-3 hours before bed. Keep your bedroom cool and dark. Make plans or have stressful conversations well before bedtime.”
- Make it aerobic. “Prioritize aerobic exercise. Extra credit if you do it at the same time every day!”
- Get that D. We synthesize Vitamin D through sun exposure, so our supplies natural dwindle in grayer climates. Vitamin D deficiency has been strongly linked to depression, so supplementing up to 5000 IU per day is often recommended—but you’ll want to speak to your doctor first.
- Ask for help. “If you’re concerned that you might have SAD, see a mental health provider for an evaluation,” Tart advises. “The good news is that acute treatment is often very effective, and if you know what you’re dealing with, future episodes can often be anticipated and prevented. Treatment might look like some combination of medication and psychotherapy, and light therapy.”