Wintertime. For most people, it’s a time of holidays and cheer, gift giving, good food, and maybe giving something back to the community.
But for those of us with seasonal depression, which may be a component of bipolar disorder during the cloudy months, wintertime can be filled with drudgery and medication adjustments.
Not all people with bipolar disorder are affected by the seasons. But some of us dread winter because it may suck us back into the pit of depression.
Research has shown that for people with seasonal depression and bipolar disorder, the depressive episodes are more severe than for people without mental illnesses. Which is why it’s so important to treat Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD) effectively.
Fortunately, there are steps we can take to treat the seasonal depressive episodes that we suffer from.
5 Treatments for Seasonal Depression and Bipolar Disorder
1. Follow a Routine
Following a routine will help you keep your circadian rhythm, or body clock, on track. SAD appears to be caused by a missmatch of the sleep/wake cycle and your body clock, which is why it’s so important not to give into the temptation to sleep until noon during the winter.
Try to keep your wintertime sleeping, eating, and relaxing habits as similar to summertime as possible.
My daughter and I go to a park every morning but Sunday (we have church in the morning then), rain or shine. The trips allow her to run around and get the wiggles out, as well as giving both of us the chance to soak up some wintertime sunshine and breathe fresh air.
After the park, we have lunch, and then Story Hour, followed by dinner, baths, and bed. We’ve followed this pattern for about four months now and it’s kept my entire family on an even keel.
Follow a routine. Your body will thank you.
2. Invest in Light Therapy
Light therapy, an effective treatment for SAD, is easy. All you need to do is invest in a specialized lamp that mimics the sun and sit in front of it for 30 minutes a day.
I love my SAD lamp. It got me through a terrible winter last year, lifting my depression. Before my husband bought me the lamps and I started using them daily, I had sunk to some pretty low levels. Thank goodness for light therapy.
The instructions for my lamp told me that it takes a couple of weeks of daily therapy to see a real difference, but I found that even a few days made a marked change in my depression.
I now use my SAD lamp every day during my study period, from 1-3pm. I keep it on my computer desk off-set from my monitor, and it shines on my face and helps me ward off depression and energize me to take on the rest of the day.
One thing I would caution you about SAD lamps, however, is that if you have bipolar disorder, you absolutely cannot use them late in the afternoon/evening or at night. The way the SAD lamp works is mimicking sunlight, which helps your body clock wake you up.
So if you have bipolar disorder and you don’t want to stay up all night and possibly go manic, do your light therapy in the morning or early afternoon.
Keep in mind that light therapy is not a guaranteed treatment. It works well for me, but it might not work for you. And do be careful to only use it for 30 minutes to an hour a day; that much bright light can induce mania.
3. Reduce your Stress
Stress is a major contributing factor in SAD and can trigger bipolar mood episodes, NAMI says. With our busy lives, it’s close to impossible to eliminate all sources of stress, but there are steps you can take to do so.
The winter is a time to hunker down and avoid major changes in your life. If you can manage it, don’t move to a new place or change jobs or have babies, all three major stressors.
Five years ago, I had a baby in the fall-approaching-winter season, and while I didn’t sink into too deep of a depression at that time, I was at high risk for it. Like most parents of newborns, I stumbled through her infancy, but I chose to not make any other large changes.
Fortunately, I was able to survive her babyhood unscathed from depression, unlike my son’s infancy years before. We’d made several changes–graduating college and getting married, moving 1500 miles away from friends and family, and moving apartments, and those were contributing factors to my postpartum psychotic breakdown shortly after my son’s birth.
The recovery took the better part of a decade, but I did recover, thankfully, and now I have tips and tricks to manage my bipolar disorder that I am sharing with you.
Try to reduce stress in your life. Plan ahead to lay low in the winter.
4. Take vitamin D
Low levels of vitamin D, which our bodies make only after exposure to sunlight, have been linked to depressive disorders. Especially in northern climes, the weak winter sunlight isn’t strong enough for people’s bodies to make adequate amounts of vitamin D.
Ask your doctor to test your vitamin D levels and whether you should take supplements.
While living in the Pacific Northwest, I have been taking vitamin D3 for years, even in the summer. When I take the vitamins, I feel more alert, more awake, and happier. If I miss even two or three days of my supplements, I feel like garbage.
I highly recommend taking vitamin D during the winter. It could help you ward off or even beat your SAD.
5. Make Plans
The good thing about having seasonal depression, if there can said to be a good thing about it, is that you can expect to have a depressive episode based on your calendar.
You can make a plan to treat your SAD and your bipolar depressive episodes. Figure out what triggers them so you can ward them off before or during the wintertime, and bring in your treatment team, like a therapist or psychiatrist.
Make plans for serious wintertime problems, too. Not only your depression, but things like massive snowstorms that knock out power to your house. Having a plan in place for potential problems will make it easier to deal with any challenges that arise and should avoid triggering a depressive episode for you.
My plans are simple: I’m going to manage my stress, take vitamin D, use my SAD lamp, follow a routine, and have contingencies for emergencies.
Seasonal affective disorder and bipolar disorder can be terrible in conjunction with each other.
But you can manage your wintertime depressive episodes. The plan is simple: follow a routine, invest in light therapy, take vitamin D, manage your stress, and plan ahead for episode triggers and emergencies.
Be proactive about your SAD. Don’t let the depression beat you.
I wish you well in your journey.