Skip to main content

Verified by Psychology Today


How to Manage Seasonal Depression

Coping with seasonal affective disorder.

It is that time of year again; the days are getting shorter, and the temperatures are beginning to drop. For people with seasonal depression, this time of year is often the beginning of a long, emotionally draining series of months. Decreased daylight can mean an increase in symptoms, including fatigue, sadness, and loss of interest in activities.

Changes in sleep and eating patterns, along with withdrawal from social engagement, can also impact people with seasonal depression, making the fall and winter months nearly intolerable for the three million people in the U.S. who struggle with this condition.

Image by Dana Tentis via pixabay
Source: Image by Dana Tentis via pixabay

While nothing can be done about the changing seasons, we can take steps to decrease our depressive responses during the long autumn equinox and winter solstice seasons. Some people who are particularly vulnerable to seasonal depression opt to move to an area of the world in which the seasonal changes are not as severe.

While the geographical solution does not work for many types of depression and other emotional health challenges, it can work wonders for seasonal depression. If moving to a new location is not an option for you, there are other strategies you can try.

  • Prescription medications: Many antidepressants work well for seasonal depression. Your medical provider can help you determine which class of medication would work best for your specific symptoms.
  • Over-the-counter supplements: If you prefer non-medical remedies, there are plenty of options such as St. John’s Wort, SAMe, vitamins D and B, magnesium, saffron, and Rhodiola. Before starting any medication or supplement, whether prescribed or OTC, ask your pharmacist for contraindications with any existing meds or conditions.
  • Light therapy: Using a lightbox that emits 10,000 lux can help reduce depressive symptoms, even in the dark days of winter. Chemical changes are elicited in the brain as a result of the lightbox, and this reduces fatigue, sadness, and other symptoms.
  • Exercise: When we exercise, our endorphins spike, serotonin levels increase, and our minds and bodies respond favorably. Getting outside for a walk or going for a bike ride can do wonders for seasonal depression. Skiing and building snowmen are additional cold-weather activities that may be fun and provide symptom relief.
  • Cognitive behavioral therapy: CBT is an evidence-based treatment modality that works well for reducing depression. Talk therapy cannot solve the biochemical aspects of depression but may help you untangle some of your automatic thoughts and assumptions about seasonal changes as well as identifying solutions.
  • Transcranial Magnetic Stimulation (TMS): In studies, patients with seasonal depression have responded well to TMS treatment. TMS is a non-invasive, effective treatment that involves the use of powerful magnets to activate brain cells to release hormones that reduce depression.
  • Hypnotherapy: Professionals who are trained in hypnosis have been using this treatment modality to help alleviate depressive symptoms and other emotional health challenges for centuries. Hypnosis can be used for a wide range of symptoms and may be an effective treatment for seasonal depression.
More from Teyhou Smyth Ph.D., LMFT
More from Psychology Today