This post contains a seasonal depression quiz as well as helpful tips to naturally boost your mood.
Seasonal Depression (Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD))
SAD most commonly begins in late fall and continues into the winter months. Symptoms of depression usually resolve during the spring and summer months.
The short and cloudy days of the winter can limit the amount of sunshine to which we’re exposed.
This can cause what’s commonly known as the winter blues.
The winter blues refers to the fatigue and low mood that many people experience during the winter.
Symptoms of winter blues include:
- Feelings of sadness during the winter months
- Lack of motivation to get things done
- Sleep problems
Note: Winter blues are not considered a mental health disorder. However, when this sadness and low energy levels begin to affect your ability to function, you may have a clinical condition known as seasonal affective disorder (SAD).
SAD vs. Winter Blues
The winter blues and SAD share the same symptoms.
However, the winter blues don’t interfere with daily functioning, while SAD affects your ability to function and perform the activities and tasks that can be normally expected.
Also, the winter blues occur during winter months only, while SAD can occur in summer.
The winter blues are common and do not constitute a mental health disorder and can be managed with lifestyle changes, while seasonal affective disorder SAD is a condition classified by DSM and may require medication or therapy.
Seasonal Depression Quiz
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#1. Do you find it hard to wake up in the morning?
#2. Do you find yourself feeling listless, sad or down most of the day, nearly every day?
#3. Do you feel like you’ve lost interest in activities you once enjoyed?
#4. Do you have problems with sleeping too much?
#5. Do you find yourself craving carbohydrate more than normal? (e.g., pizza, pastries, potatoes, cakes)
#6. Do you have difficulty concentrating?
#7. Do you struggle with feelings of hopelessness and worthlessness?
#8. Do you find yourself withdrawing from social activities?
This test is based on the diagnostic criteria of Seasonal Affective Disorder. This test is designed to make a preliminary self-assessment. This is not a diagnostic tool.
We will not sell your information. All results are kept confidential.
If you answered Yes to most of these questions and if your symptoms are affecting your daily functioning, then you may have seasonal depression and need to seek help from a mental health professional to further discuss diagnosis and treatment.
Note: Symptoms of SAD are similar to those of depression. However, for someone to be diagnosed with depression with a seasonal pattern, they would have to experience:
- Symptoms that become worse during a specific time of the year for at least two years
- The seasonal depressive episodes must significantly outweigh the nonseasonal episodes (*)
How To Boost Your Mood & Heal Depression Without Medication?
#1. Light Therapy (Phototherapy)
Light therapy, also known as phototherapy and bright light therapy, is a type of therapy that is used to treat a number of mental health conditions, including seasonal depression. (*)
The treatment works by giving you a boost of artificial light that mimics the effects of sunny days.
Light therapy is easy to use. All you need is a light therapy box or lamp, which you simply turn on, and sit close enough for your eyes and skin to absorb the light. (*)
Talk to Your Doctor First
While you can buy a light therapy box or lamp without a prescription, always talk to your doctor before you begin treatment with light therapy, especially if you have an eye condition such as eye damage, glaucoma, or cataracts.
Light Therapy: Keep Winter Blues at Bay
Light therapy is a great way to fight winter blues and boost your mood.
The light therapy box or lamp works by giving you a boost of artificial light that mimics the effects of sunny days.
#2. Restful Sleep
Not getting enough sleep profoundly impacts our brains, bodies, and emotions.
Not getting enough sleep decreases overall activity in the brain, reduces the body’s ability to repair injuries to muscles and joints, and throws our hormones out of balance including cortisol (stress hormone) serotonin (a neurotransmitter that helps you feel calm and self-confident), dopamine (a neurotransmitter that helps you feel excited and energized), and many other hormones.
This is why by improving the quality of your sleep, your mental and emotional health will improve as well. (1)
The following suggestions will help you improve the quality of your sleep:
1. Spend time outside to benefit from natural light
2. Do a light exercise, such as yoga, stretching, etc.
3. Stay away from heavy, rich, or spicy food close to bedtime
4. Avoid electronics and blue lights close to bedtime
5. Follow a relaxing evening ritual to wind down for bedtime, such as reading fiction, taking a bath, journaling, meditating, etc.
6. Keep your room warm (not hot) and dark.
7. Download your day by journaling or writing a list of “what’s on my mind” and writing down your tomorrow’s to-dos list.
8. Keep everything organized and in its place, such as doing the dishes, preparing your bag and outfit for tomorrow, putting the recycling by the front door for you to take it out the next day, etc.
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#3. Physical Movement to Boost Your Mood
This isn’t rocket science or a brand-new revelation. However, many people underestimate the benefits exercise can have on their mood, body, and brain.
Exercise increases the release of hormones that have a major impact on our physical and mental health. This includes norepinephrine, (a hormone that improves focus and memory) dopamine, (a neurotransmitter that gives you feelings of joy) serotonin, (a neurotransmitter that helps you feel self-confident and improve your social behavior) and endorphins, (a hormone that is linked to feelings of euphoria and well-being).
The good news is you don’t have to spend hours in the gym to get these benefits. Even a 30-minute walk every day can help you reap the benefits of exercise.
If you find it hard to start exercising or to keep on it, start by asking yourself why. Many people might shy away from exercise for the following reasons:
- Associating exercise with failed attempts to lose weight
- Envisioning themselves red-faced and sweating profusely
- Feeling little energy or motivation for physical activity
Recognizing your negative beliefs is the first step to changing them and changing your behavior.
The following suggestions can help you start exercising:
1. Instead of taking the elevator, take the stairs.
2. Park a little farther and walk.
3. Get a pet and start walking it, or offer to walk your neighbor’s pet.
4. Ask your partner, or a friend to join you in running or in the gym.
#4. Use Proper Nutrition to Fend Off Depression
What we eat determines the quality of, not only our physical health but also our mental health.
In fact, one study shows that eating fast food is linked to a greater risk of suffering from depression. (2)
The following suggestions will help you change your diet:
1. Reduce or eliminate sugar in your diet. Avoid sugar substitutes, which can be sweeter than real sugar and make you more addicted to the taste of sweet.
2. Increase your water intake. Drink the equivalent of half of your body weight in ounces of water every day.
3. Increase your intake of antioxidants, such as apricots, broccoli, cantaloupe, carrots, collards, peaches, pumpkin, spinach, sweet potato, blueberries, broccoli, grapefruit, kiwi, oranges, peppers, potatoes, strawberries, and tomato.
4. Increase your intake of protein such as turkey, tuna, chicken, beans and peas, lean beef, low-fat cheese, fish, milk, poultry, soy products, and yogurt.
5. Add vitamin B12 to your diet. You can find this vitamin in food like nuts, dark green vegetables, and lean and low-fat animal products, such as fish and low-fat dairy products.
6. Include Omega-3 Fatty Acids in your diet. Good sources of omega-3s are Fatty fish (anchovy, mackerel, salmon, sardines, shad, and tuna)
- Canola and soybean oils
- Nuts, especially walnuts
- Dark green, leafy vegetables
Herbs and Supplements to Help Fight Depression
Natural supplements can be effective in reducing symptoms of depression without the unwanted side effects of some medications.
1. Omega-3 fatty acids
Omega-3 fats are essential fats that you get from your diet. Some studies in adults suggest that omega-3 fatty acids may be beneficial in the treatment of mild to moderate depression.
A 2020 analysis found that omega-3 fatty acid supplements significantly improved depressive symptoms in pregnant and postpartum women.
Food rich in omega-3 fatty acids include:
- Fish and other seafood (especially cold-water fatty fish, such as salmon, mackerel, tuna, herring, and sardines)
- Nuts and seeds (such as flaxseed, chia seeds, and walnuts)
- Plant oils (such as flaxseed oil, soybean oil, and canola oil)
- Fortified foods (such as certain brands of eggs, yogurt, juices, milk, and soy beverages)
Saffron is a brightly colored spice rich in antioxidant compounds, including the carotenoids crocin and crocetin.
Studies show that saffron can be a natural treatment for depression.
Studies have shown that saffron increases levels of serotonin – a mood-boosting neurotransmitter.
3. Vitamin D
Vitamin D is a critical nutrient that has different roles. Unfortunately, many people don’t have sufficient vitamin D levels.
Studies show that people with depression are more likely to be low or deficient in vitamin D.
Vitamin D helps fight depression by reducing inflammation, regulating mood, and protecting against neurocognitive dysfunction.
A 2020 study found that receiving a single injection of 300,000 IU of vitamin D along with usual treatment significantly improved depressive symptoms and quality of life in people with depression who were deficient in vitamin D.
4. B vitamins
B vitamins, including folate, B12, and B6, play important roles in the production and regulation of neurotransmitters like serotonin, gamma-aminobutyric acid (GABA), and dopamine.
A 2020 review suggested that taking vitamin B12 supplements early may delay the onset of depression.
Food rich in vitamin B include:
- Leafy Greens
- Liver and Other Organ Meats
- Oysters, Clams and Mussels
- Legumes like chickpeas, lentils and beans
Zinc is a mineral that’s critical to the regulation of neurotransmitter pathways. It also boasts antioxidant and anti-inflammatory properties.
Studies associated zinc deficiency with a higher risk for depression.
One review concluded that participants who took zinc supplements alongside their antidepressant medications experienced significantly lowered depressive symptoms.
Food rich in zinc include:
- Red meat, including beef and lamb.
- like oysters, crab, mussels and shrimp
- Legumes like chickpeas, lentils and beans
Magnesium is an important mineral that may reduce depressive symptoms.
One study found that taking 248 mg of magnesium per day for 6 weeks significantly improved depressive symptoms compared with a placebo.
Food rich in magnesium include:
- Dark chocolate
- Avocados Cashews, almonds and Brazil nuts
- Legumes like lentils, beans, chickpeas, peas and soybeans
- Seeds like flax, pumpkin and chia seeds
- Whole grains like wheat, oats and barley, as well as pseudocereals like buckwheat and quinoa
- Some fatty fish, including salmon, mackerel and halibut
- Leafy greens like kale, spinach, collard greens, turnip greens and mustard greens.
#5. Detox Your Body of Pollutants
Every day, our bodies are exposed to toxic substances and chemicals in our environment, by our food, cleaning products, hygiene products and even furniture.
These toxins can cause fatigue, stress, ADHD, cancer and even depression.
Although the body has multiple organs and systems designed to filter and flush out toxins, the amount of pollutants we are exposed to every day can drain our organs.
This is why it’s important to become intentional about certain choices and behavior and change our lifestyle and diet in a way that will support these organs and systems.
The following suggestions can help you with that:
1. Avoid foods that contain additives and artificial preservatives, food colorings, and/or any variety of chemicals.
2. Avoid alcoholic beverages. One study linked one alcoholic drink a day with an increased risk of brain damage. (3)
3. Avoid chemical sweeteners including Nutrasweet, Equal, Spoonful, and other artificial sweeteners found in processed foods or drinks.
4. Avoid processed foods and snacks.
5. Avoid consuming fish from rivers or lakes with high levels of mercury.
6. Eat organic and avoid fruits and vegetables grown with the use of pesticides and herbicides.
7. Drink a cup of dandelion root tea twice a day.
8. Drink two cups or more of fresh-pressed vegetable juice every day.
9. Eat whole foods as much as possible.
10. Drink at least two liters of water a day.
Moving the Blood
11. Dry brush your skin with a soft brush prior to a bath or shower.
12. Exercise for at least twenty to thirty minutes at a time.
#6. Technology Detox
Studies show a link between the misuse of modern technology and depression. (4)
The keywords here are misuse and too much. It’s not about technology itself but how and how much we use it. Technology can be addictive and hard to control.
The following signs can give you an idea about how addicted you became to technology and whether you need to cut back on using it:
* You feel nervous when separated from one or more of your devices.
* You are focused on a screen (computer, phone, tablet, TV) for more than two hours a day for reasons other than work.
* You often sleep late because you can’t disconnect from an online activity at bedtime.
* You turn down opportunities to do other things if it means stepping away from your device.
* You feel anxious at the thought of spending an entire weekend offline.
* Your friends and family complain about your excessive use of devices.
* You routinely text while driving or walking.
* You often feel physically drained after lengthy periods of time online.
If most of these signs apply to you, then it might be time to reassess the role of technology in your life and take back your control.
Come up with a plan that will help you reduce the amount of time you spend using your devices.
The following suggestions might help:
1. Leave your phone in another room at night.
2. Turn off as many push notifications as possible.
3. Take distracting apps off your home screen.
#7. Relieve Stress
Low-level stress is essential for our survival. It boosts brain activity and productivity and can be a great motivator to make positive changes in our lives.
However, when stress becomes chronic, it becomes a problem for our physical and emotional health, including depression. (5)
Reducing stress, especially ongoing, chronic stress, is essential if you’re struggling with depression.
Moreover, stress increases depression because it tempts up to quit good habits and embrace bad ones to cope. You’re more likely to eat comfort food, or skip the gym, or isolate yourself when you’re stressed out.
The following signs can give you an idea about how stressed you are:
- Neck and jaw pain from clenching or grinding teeth
- Difficulty concentrating
- Feeling overwhelmed
- Insomnia and/or disturbing dreams
- Rapid heart rate
- Heartburn, stomach pain
- Diarrhea and/or constipation
- Feelings of anxiety or nervousness
- Changes in libido, with a decreased interest in sex
- Changes in appetite, such as overeating or loss of appetite
If you’re experiencing even a few of these symptoms on an ongoing basis, you’re most likely chronically stressed out, and reducing your levels of stress should be your priority.
The following suggestions could help reduce your stress levels:
1. Identify the sources of your stress and make a plan to reduce these stressors and learn to deal with them more effectively.
2. If procrastination or inefficient ways of getting things done are responsible for much of your stress, consider changing the way you do things.
Start using productivity tools and hacks. Read a book on productivity and organization and apply the strategies you learn in your life.
3. Make a list of healthy ways to relax, such as taking a walk, practicing deep breathing, praying, expressing gratitude, talking to a loved one, playing with your pet, tending to your houseplants, reading, cooking, etc.
Make time every day to do one of these activities.
4. If you tend to eat comfort food when you feel stressed, make a list of alternative healthy food or snacks you can have instead of your comfort food.
#8. Set Yourself Free From Addictions
Working on your emotional and mental health while having bad habits is like sailing without raising the anchor – no matter how well you’re prepared, you’re not going anywhere.
Addictions can be apparent like drugs or alcohol, but most addictions are hidden – even from the person having them.
Additions cover a wide array of behaviors, such as shopping, video game playing, overworking, codependent relationships, etc.
People came to believe that their behaviors are normal and harmless. However, the relief and pleasure an addiction might provide is temporary and does nothing to address the real causes of depression.
In fact, depression gets worse over time if the person doesn’t explore the root issues. There is a typical sequence of actions and feelings that come along with addiction such as shame and guilt, which only adds to your depression.
To assess how addicted you are to a bad habit, consider if the following statements apply to you:
* You keep doing it in spite of clear negative consequences.
* You experience psychological and/or physical withdrawal when you try to stop doing it.
* You avoid activities and social situations where you’re unable to do it.
* You try hard to keep your habit a secret from others, including lying to people you care about.
* You have lost the ability to say no to yourself.
* It takes more of the substance or activity to make you feel satisfied or relieved than it used to.
* You take risks and make serious sacrifices in order to do it.
* You feel that you need this activity just to get through the day.
* Doing this thing makes you feel guilty or ashamed.
If most of these statements apply to you, then you might be struggling with addiction, and freeing yourself from it should be a priority.
It’s important to address an addictive behavior when trying to overcome depression.
Evaluate your addictions even if you believe that your compulsive behavior is not causing you a problem. Being aware of the problem is the first and most important step.
Free Printable Worksheets For Depression (PDF)
#9. Dealing With Unresolved Anger, Guilt, and Fear
Anger, guilt, and fear are a trio of emotions within each one of us that, if left unresolved, can hinder our emotional and mental health.
These untended emotions can undermine any progress you make on other fronts on your quest to overcome depression, such as reducing stress, getting quality sleep, and exercising.
Instead of burying these emotions away, let them empower you.
Anger, guilt, and fear are healthy emotions when you benefit from their feedback and feel empowered to make a positive change.
Consider healthy ways to help you process your unresolved emotions, such as therapy with a qualified counselor, journaling about it, opening up to a trusted friend, joining a support group, etc.
Forgiveness is a proven antidote to toxic emotions and unresolved anger, guilt, and fear.
To start forgiving, you need to keep in your mind the following facts:
1. The one who benefits from forgiveness is mostly you. By forgiving the one who caused you harm, you help yourself let go of toxic attachment to your pain and move on with your life.
Because as long as we hang on to feelings of injustice and desire to pay back, we are keeping the wounds fresh and even deepening them.
2. Forgiveness isn’t about letting someone ‘off the hook,” or, “get away” with something.
3. Forgiveness (or lack of it) brings you more and more good health (or poor health).
Lack of forgiveness poisons your life and increase your likelihood to escape into unhealthy behaviors
Forgiveness, on the other hand, gains momentum and helps you brighten your outlook on life in general, shorten your recovery time, and strengthen your mental health. (6)
#11. Harness The Power of Spirituality
Spirituality is a place of hope that adds balance to your life, whether it was praying, meditation, or simply having certain beliefs and ethics.
Practicing spiritual acts everyday is important for your long-term recovery. These acts might include:
- Practicing gratitude,
- Coming clean about your mistakes,
Make a plan of action to incorporate spiritual acts into your life.
#12. Addressing Cognitive Distortions
#1. Identify Your Cognitive Distortions
By being aware of your thinking pattern and avoiding cognitive distortion, you become more capable of controlling your thoughts and emotions.
Overgeneralizing – by drawing conclusions because of a single instance or statement (i.e., failing one test and immediately thinking that you’re stupid and you won’t succeed)
Thinking All-or-Nothing – by using absolute terms to such as never or ever. In other words, people, things or circumstances are either all good or all bad.
Taking Things Too Personally – by believing that everything unfortunate that happens is because of you (i.e. “My mother isn’t happy because I didn’t do my homework.”)
Minimizing the Positive – by disqualifying the positive things that happen because you believe they are by luck or something else out of your control.
Maximizing the Negative – by dwelling on your own mistakes and failures so much that they keep you from being happy.
#2. Cognitive Restructuring
Cognitive restructuring helps you deal with your “negative automatic thoughts” and replace them with more positive ones.
Here’s how you can do that on your own:
1. Assess your situation and look for the negative aspect that is causing depression.
Describe your negative emotions and thoughts in a journal and rate their intensity.
2. Pay attention to your negative automatic thoughts – the ones that you automatically think of whenever you encounter a difficult situation.
3. Examine these thoughts and evaluate how realistic they are.
Challenge your distorted thoughts by asking yourself the following questions:
- What evidence do I have that what I believe is actually true?
- Do I know for certain that the worst will happen?
- Is there another possible explanation for that person’s behavior that isn’t about me?
- Am I confusing a thought with a fact?
- Am I falling into a thinking trap (e.g., catastrophizing or overestimating danger)?
- What would I tell a friend if he/she had the same thought?
- Am I 100% sure that ___________will happen?
- How many times has __________happened before?
- Is __________so important that my future depends on it?
- If it did happen, what could I do to cope with or handle it?
- Am I condemning myself as a total person on the basis of a single event?
- Am I concentrating on my weakness and forgetting my strengths?
- Am I blaming myself for something which is not really my fault?
- Am I taking something personally which has little or nothing to do with me?
- Am I assuming I can do nothing to change my situation?
4. Change them with more positive and realistic ones.
If you still struggle with finding an alternative
Ask yourself, “If I were talking to a friend who is in the same situation as me, what would I say to them?”
Your response would probably be, “Don’t be hard on yourself,” or, “You have great potential. That mistake doesn’t make you a failure at all.”
5. Repeat the process as much as needed.
If you feel that things become too hard for you to handle, you should talk to a therapist to help you regain more control.
#3. Tackle Negative Inner Voices
Using your journal, work on replacing negative inner voices in your mind with more nurturing voices to help build up a more positive picture of yourself.
Step 1: Commit to making journal entries for two weeks for ten to fifteen minutes every day, ideally at a regular time.
Step 2: Start by writing about what you are thinking and feeling at the time – express your concerns, wishes, feelings, thoughts, and reflections.
Step 3: After a week, look back at your journal and try to identify any negative patterns of negative statements. Can you associate the critical voice with any voices from your past or present? When do you think you might first have heard that kind of statement? Who might have made it and in what setting?
Step 4: Commit to mindfully challenging and replacing the negative voices when you write in your journal next week.
* If you have identified the negative voice as being that of someone you know, ask yourself what reasons they may have prompted them to speak like that. Look for evidence that suggests that the negative voice is inaccurate or too extreme.
* Imagining what you would say to a best friend who is in the same situation.
* Remembering someone from your past or present who is supportive to you, and imagine them responding to your negative statements.
#4. Recognize That Your Feelings Aren’t Necessarily Reality
Your thoughts are largely shaped by your emotions.
When you’re feeling happy, you tend to think positive thoughts. When you’re upset, you may believe that you may never feel good again, even though nothing in your life has significantly changed.
You may find yourself thinking, “I feel miserable because the world is a horrible place.”
For emotionally sensitive people, this can create an emotional roller coaster.
Practical Exercise – Emotions Diary
One way to remind yourself of the fleeting nature of emotions and stop yourself from catastrophizing your emotions is to keep a diary in which you write about your emotions and the thoughts you had each day.
After a couple of weeks, review what you’ve written.
You’ll notice that your thoughts tend to change with your feelings.
This will help change your beliefs about your emotions and reassure yourself that your thoughts when you’re feeling down, are not necessarily the facts of your life.
Pleasant Activities to Try
- Soaking in the bathtub
- Taking deep breaths
- Recycling old items
- Going to a movie in the middle of the week
- Jogging, walking
- Lying in the sun
- Listening to others
- Reading magazines or newspapers
- Hobbies (stamp collecting, model building)
- Spending an evening with good friends
- Practicing karate, judo, yoga
- Repairing things around the house
- Working on my car (bicycle)
- Remembering the words and deeds of loving people
- Wearing sexy clothes
- Having quiet evenings
- Taking care of my plants
- Going swimming
- Having discussions with friends
- Having family get-togethers
- Singing around the house
- Practicing religion (going to church, group praying, etc.)
- Losing weight
- Going to the beach
- Thinking I’m an OK person
- A day with nothing to do
- Playing musical instruments
- Doing arts and crafts
- Making a gift for someone
- Writing short stories, novels, poems, or articles
- Reading books
- Discussing books
- Going to the beauty parlor
- Early morning coffee and newspaper
- Playing tennis
- Play with children
- Eating a favorite food
- Playing with animals
- Writing diary entries or letters
- Taking children places
- Having lunch with a friend
- Thinking about people I like
- Doing crossword puzzles
- Dressing up and looking nice
- Reflecting on how I’ve improved
- Lighting candles
- Listening to the radio
- Being in the country
- Making contributions to religious, charitable, or other groups
- Doing something nice for my parents
- Taking a shower
- Canning, freezing, making preserves, etc.
- Listening to the sounds of nature
- Having friends come to visit
- Helping someone
- Hearing jokes
- Improving my health (having my teeth fixed, getting new glasses, changing my diet)
- Loaning something
- Coaching someone
- Getting up early in the morning
- Saying prayers
- Giving a massage
- Doing housework or laundry
- Going to the library
- Building or watching a fire
- Seasonal affective disorder – Wikipedia
- Overview – Seasonal affective disorder (SAD) – NHS (www.nhs.uk)
- NIMH » Seasonal Affective Disorder (nih.gov)
- Seasonal Depression (Seasonal Affective Disorder) Symptoms, Causes, Treatments (webmd.com)
- Seasonal Depression (Seasonal Affective Disorder) (clevelandclinic.org)
- Seasonal affective disorder (SAD) – Symptoms and causes – Mayo Clinic
- Seasonal Affective Disorder: An Overview of Assessment and Treatment Approaches – PMC (nih.gov)
- Implementing prevention of seasonal affective disorder from patients’ and physicians’ perspectives – a qualitative study | BMC Psychiatry | Full Text (biomedcentral.com)