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Winter Health Guide: Article 5 of 6

8 Tips for Managing Depression This Fall and Winter

Private: Janis L. Anderson, PhD
Contributor Janis L. Anderson, PhD

The autumn equinox is the start of a risk period for people with recurrent depression, seasonal pattern. People with this condition have multiple episodes of depression in late fall and winter, alternating with periods of normal mood the rest of the year. This condition used to be known as seasonal affective disorder (SAD).

If you find it more difficult to wake up at your usual morning hour and get through the day following the time change, learn about ways to help manage your mood this fall and winter.

Daily routines can help you manage your mood

Following a daily routine can help you manage your mood by maintaining your body’s daily rhythms. Use these tips to feel better as you adjust to the time change:

1. Set up a routine for yourself.

Routines help stabilize body clocks. Get up at the same time every day.  A regular wake time is the most important input for stabilizing your body clock.

2. Spend some time outdoors every day, especially in the early morning. 

Your body clock needs to “see” light in the morning to know “when” it is. If you can’t go outside, try to spend at least 2 hours next to a window. Look into the daylight and focus on being calm.

3. Set regular times for a few key activities each day.

Exercise, call a friend, cook or read.

4. Eat meals at the same time every day. 

If you’re not hungry, eat a small snack at the usual time.

5. Connect with friends and family.

Social interactions are important. Seek out “back and forth” interactions where you share thoughts and feelings with another person in real time. Video conferences, telephone calls or even real-time text messaging is best.

6. Avoid naps during daylight hours, especially later in the day. 

If you must nap, restrict them to 30 minutes. Napping makes it hard to fall asleep at night.

7. Avoid bright light (especially blue light) in the evening.

This includes computer screens and smartphones. Blue spectrum light can disrupt sleep by suppressing the hormone that helps us fall asleep.

8. Stick to a consistent sleep and wake time that fits your natural rhythms. 

If you’re a night owl, it’s OK to stay up a little bit later and get up a little bit later than others in the household. Just make sure you go to sleep and get up at the same time every day.

Private: Janis L. Anderson, PhD
Janis L. Anderson, PhD

Janis L. Anderson, PhD, is a psychologist at Brigham and Women’s Hospital and an assistant professor of psychology at Harvard Medical School.

Before you go,

Mental health is a key part of your overall wellness. Get tips on managing mental health conditions and find out how to cope with anxiety, stress and trauma in your daily life. Read more mental health articles.