5 ways to treat Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD)

Winter months can signal the return of adrenaline-inducing ski trips or cozy evenings by the fire, but for those who work in an office, the early sunsets, dark afternoons, and cooler temperatures can trigger feelings of sluggishness, disinterest, and agitation. Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD) is depression that is prompted with the changing of the seasons, most commonly winter, and understandably so— we can all remember a time where we left the office and were immediately disheartened by the pitch-black sky and a cold gust of wind, can’t we?

Men and women experiencing SAD may find an imbalance in serotonin levels (keeping your mood stabilized), an increase in melatonin levels (making you sleepy and less alert) and producing less vitamin D. While SAD can affect work performance and the overall experience at work each day, there are steps you can take to combat the symptoms and create a healthier, more positive work environment for yourself.

Use a light therapy lamp

A lack of natural sunlight is known to be a major contributing factor to SAD. It makes sense– for many people who leave the office at 5 pm or later, the sun has already set, and not all offices are equipped with large windows and major exposure to natural light. Light therapy lamps are meant to replicate natural light and filter out UV light and can be great to keep at home by your bed (especially when you wake up in the morning) and on your desk at the office. While light therapy is one of the most common treatments for SAD, consult with your doctor before trying this method. Once they give you the OK, you’ll have lots of options to choose from!

Take a break outdoors

Vitamin D is believed to be linked to our serotonin levels, which is a key factor in keeping our moods regulated and can trigger depression when the levels drop. Going outside and getting some natural sunlight and soaking up some vitamin D can be a great way to boost your mood. If it’s hard to get away during the day, set aside some time on your calendar, even if it’s for only 15 minutes, and talk to your direct supervisor if needed. Use that time to take a walk to grab a coffee, listen to your favorite music, or maybe bring a coworker along to chat.

Exercise before work

Exercising releases endorphins, a chemical in your brain that boosts your mood and gives you energy. If you do your workout before heading to the office, you can approach your workday feeling awake and motivated. Another added bonus of exercising before work is it gets you up to enjoy the natural sunlight. If it’s too cold for outdoor exercise, you’ll at least be able to enjoy it on your car ride or walk to the gym!

Prepare lunches with serotonin-boosting ingredients

When experiencing a dip in serotonin levels, it’s best to supplement with healthy ingredients that can help regulate. Leafy greens, avocado, bananas, walnuts, and salmon are all foods that contain vitamins that boost serotonin levels, including B-12, B-6, and omega-3’s, respectively. Even complex carbs have been found to regulate serotonin levels, which can be found in office-friendly foods like oatmeal, lentils, and squash. Now, the fun begins! Plan and meal prep some fun, healthy office lunches that will make you feel good and contribute to a better overall mood.

If symptoms persist, seek help. It’s important not to dismiss or underplay the significance of your SAD symptoms, inside or outside of the workplace. If your diet, exercise, and light supplements are not helping relieve or alter your symptoms, talk to a doctor to see if a form of therapy or medication is the right step for you. There is no shame in asking or receiving help, especially when it could result in you feeling more productive, positive, and engaged, in and out of the office.