Tips for Coping with Seasonal Affective Disorder

Take a moment to visualize a warm summer day where you’re soaking in the sun and spending time in nature. Does this image evoke feelings of happiness and relaxation for you? That’s because sunlight has countless benefits for your mental health! It increases your level of serotonin, a hormone known for its role in emotional regulation and mood-boosting effects. But as the seasons change, so does your amount of sunlight exposure – and, in some cases, your serotonin levels. Because we get fewer hours of sunlight during the fall and winter months, our serotonin levels can decrease. This may trigger seasonal affective disorder (SAD), also known as “winter depression” or “the winter blues.”

Dairy farmer Brittany Olson points out that farmers may be particularly susceptible to SAD because harvest season can be extremely stressful for those living in rural communities. Moreover, farmers may have limited time to work outdoors in the sunlight during the fall and winter months depending on their location. Because of these factors, rural residents can benefit from awareness of SAD symptoms, the available treatments, and preventative measures they can take to combat seasonal depression.

Symptoms of Seasonal Affective Disorder

If you have winter depression, you may no longer have an interest in activities that used to bring you joy. You might notice that you’re sleeping a lot more than usual but still have low energy and feel down or hopeless. SAD can cause you to have trouble concentrating. You may also experience changes in your appetite, like an intense craving for high-carbohydrate foods.

A Farmer’s Tips for Seasonal Depression

Lois Hoffman, a farmer based in Pennsylvania, shares her tips for overcoming seasonal affective disorder as someone who lives in a rural area. She recommends starting a new project around your house or farm, which can help keep you motivated and give you a sense of accomplishment. It could be anything from crocheting a piece of winter clothing like a scarf or gloves to decorating your garage or home and creating a joyful, peaceful space.

Psychologists and researchers support Lois’ advice: goal setting can help not only with SAD, but other mental illnesses as well, including depression and anxiety. Studies show that setting specific and achievable goals can boost your mental wellbeing. The key is to set a series of small goals instead of taking on one large and overwhelming goal. Building motivation and confidence by celebrating your achievements, no matter how small they may seem, can help you cope with symptoms of SAD.

Light Therapy and Lamps for SAD

Light therapy is a common treatment for winter depression. It involves using a “SAD lamp” with a bright light that works as an artificial substitute for sunlight. You use the lamp early in the day for 20 to 60 minutes – ideally in the morning – without looking directly at it.

Other Treatments for Seasonal Affective Disorder

Vitamin D supplements, cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT), and antidepressants are all effective treatments for SAD. They are sometimes used in combination with light therapy. Overall, there are many treatments for SAD, and help is widely available if you have been diagnosed or believe you have this condition. You don’t need to suffer through it alone. Talk to your healthcare provider to find the treatment option that works best for you.

If you’re looking for more mental health tools, feel free to browse our Rural Mental Wellness Toolkit, where you’ll find helpful videos, conversation cards, and more educational articles about mental health specifically for rural residents.