Seasonal affective disorder (SAD) is brought on by the changing seasons. It can be an overwhelming, jarring type of depression. Most people, when first dealing with it, aren’t sure how to cope with seasonal depression. They begin feeling sapped of energy and interest during the fall, and their condition continues to worsen as winter progresses. The depressive symptoms typically self-resolve during the springtime and remain minimal throughout the summer months. It is also important to remember that winter depression or winter blues is a lesser form of SAD. 

Researchers are not yet sure what exactly causes seasonal affective disorder, but some of its prevalent markers include:

  • Daily depression that occurs in a seasonal pattern
  • Lacking interest in previously enjoyed activities
  • Weight gain & changes in appetite
  • Lacking energy & feeling constantly tired
  • Excessive sleeping

Left untreated, seasonal affective disorder symptoms can lead to chronic mental health problems. Fortunately, there are a number of therapist-approved techniques for knowing how to deal with seasonal depression. Use the tips below to learn to recognize, prevent, and alleviate SAD symptoms.

Consider the following 17 tips on how to cope with seasonal depression.

1. Talk with a Therapist

If you suffer from seasonal affective disorder, working with an online therapist can be a huge asset. A skilled therapist can teach you how to fight seasonal depression before, during, and after its occurrence. Talk therapy and cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) are both effective in treating SAD, and success rates are high. There’s always hope for healing.

2. Stay Hydrated

Water is integral to every cell in the human body, so it’s vitally important to drink enough. Staying hydrated is essential year-round, and it can help you have optimal health even during the months where the weather has you down. 

3. Get Your Daily Dose of Sunshine

Understanding how to combat seasonal depression involves knowing about the power of natural sunlight. Get outside of the house regularly. When indoors, leave the window blinds open to let the sun in. If you work inside, try to find a location where natural light gets in.

4. Take the Right Vitamins

Vitamin D deficiency is linked to depression. Many people struggle with getting enough Vitamin D, particularly in the winter months. While sunshine is the best source of vitamin D, if you’re unable to get enough natural bright light during the dark winter months, consider taking an organic, plant-based vitamin D supplement. The recommended form of vitamin D is called vitamin D3, or cholecalciferol — though some studies show that vitamin D2 can work just as well. 

Studies have shown that those who took vitamin D supplements saw noticed improvements in their depression symptoms. If you are considering taking vitamin D, be sure to speak with your medical doctor before trying out a new supplement.

5. Try Light Therapy

When those dark, gray days keep you from getting that natural sunlight you crave, bright light therapy might do the trick. Sometimes called Light in a Box, light therapy boxes emit very bright artificial light that mimics natural sunshine. They can help synchronize your circadian rhythm and cause chemical changes in your brain to elevate your overall mood. Sitting in front of a lightbox daily for about 30 minutes can help reduce the effects of SAD.

6. Prepare Yourself Before the Seasons Change

If you know that you have SAD, then it’s good to prepare your mind for the upcoming seasonal change. Going into autumn, consider adding mood-heightening activities like fun hobbies, community service, group outings, outdoor walks, or exercising in a public park to your schedule.

7. Dawn Simulators

Dawn simulators are specially designed alarm clocks that wake you with gradual intensity, like a rising sun. They produce calming sounds instead of abrupt noises, allowing you to enter the day in a peaceful manner instead of being frantic. These affordable devices have been known to help some people with SAD.

8. Stay Connected with Friends

There’s a definitive link between isolation and depression. That’s why getting together with valued friends is an effective way to combat the effects of seasonal affective disorder. So consider finding some creative ways to meet up with your friends, especially during the cool autumn and cold winter months, even if it’s just an online video chat.

“There is no shame in seeking help. Seasonal affective disorder (SAD) is a common condition that many of my clients have experienced. All of them have noted that once they decided to open up about it, they have been able to find treatment that works.”

Talkspace therapist Ashley Ertel, LCSW, BCD

9. Aromatherapy

Aromatherapy involves burning aromatic candles or diffusing the vapor of essential oils. Research shows that lavender, ginger, and bergamot are especially effective for relieving anxiety and depression symptoms as well as some sleep problems.

10. Schedule Your Time and Activities

Many people with seasonal affective disorder have difficulty getting to sleep at night, waking up in the morning, or both. Staying on a regular sleep and active schedule can do wonders for your mood.

11. Take a Hot Epsom Salt Bath

Epsom salt is magnesium sulfate (MgSO4). Soaking in a warm bath with added Epsom salt is one way to increase your bodily intake of magnesium. According to research, magnesium can be effective in treating adults with mild-to-moderate depression.  

12. Exercise Daily

There’s massive evidence that regular exercise can effectively combat depression symptoms. Combined with all the other numerous health benefits it offers, it’s a no-brainer that working out during the cold, dark months of the year can be beneficial in helping with SAD. 

Semi-strenuous exercise, to the point of perspiration, releases endorphins, stimulates immunity, aids digestion, and offers several other physiological responses that help to prevent and alleviate depression.

13. Journaling

Many people with SAD attest to the power of journaling. They’ve learned how to combat seasonal depression by writing down their thoughts, feelings, and goals. Journaling can breathe life into your thoughts and make them concrete. 

Use your journal to prioritize your time, express your worries, create solutions, let go of resentments, and to just stay in touch with your inner feelings. Journaling to track your moods can be useful in identifying trends that may help you in the future.   

Seasonal affective disorder (SAD) can feel really frustrating because you can feel like you’ve really got a handle on things and then, out of the blue, the depression starts to set in. I encourage my clients to track their mood and other symptoms over time to identify any trends that they can bring up with their provider.”

Talkspace therapist Ashley Ertel, LCSW, BCD

14. Plan Your Meals

Some people with winter seasonal affective disorder experience tiredness, excessive sleeping, changes in appetite, and overeating (especially high-carb foods). Take some time to plan healthy meals and prepare them at home. If you have any concerns about your changes in appetite, speak with your therapist about what is going on so you address this. 

15. Take a Vacation

If you’re prone to depression in the winter months, consider a vacation. If you can swing it, get to a sunny place. A bright environment, lots of natural sunlight, and change of scenery can be very effective at chasing away the winter blues and restoring your energy.

16. Avoid Alcohol

While many people assert that it helps lift them out of depression, alcohol is classified as a depressant. It may initially cause feelings of elation and positivity, but excessive consumption can further feelings of depression, anger, or hopelessness. Drink carefully, if at all.

17. Consider Medication  

SAD is a type of depression — it’s a mental health condition. This means it must be diagnosed by a licensed mental health professional, and you might want to consider medication to help with your treatment. Ask your family doctor about getting screened for SAD. They can either diagnose you or refer you to an online psychiatrist.

Antidepressant medications may work to combat SAD. However, many people opt to rule out other possible remedies before taking any prescription medication. Prescription drugs can be helpful for many conditions and shouldn’t necessarily be ruled out immediately. Some people, however, try certain forms of therapy and other treatment options first. Your doctor can help you determine if medication is right for you.

You don’t have to suffer in silence if you deal with seasonal affective disorder. You can learn how to deal with seasonal depression. There are so many effective, helpful, easy tips you can use to learn to alleviate the depression and loneliness you might experience over the winter months. 

Medically reviewed by: Kate Rosenblatt, MA, LPC, LMHC

Reviewed On: February 2, 2022