7 Tips for Seniors to Combat Seasonal Depression

It’s not just in your head – the darker the days get, the more it affects your brain. We call this seasonal depression, often known as Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD), and it affects many people as the days get shorter and colder. Understanding what this condition entails, its causes, and how it impacts older adults is key to managing its effects. 

Read on for a few effective strategies tailored for older adults to navigate and alleviate seasonal depression, along with insights into what exactly this disorder is and how it may affect us as we age.

What is seasonal depression?

Seasonal affective disorder (SAD) is a type of depression that typically occurs during the late fall and winter months when there is less natural sunlight. It’s characterized by symptoms such as a somber mood, loss of interest in everyday activities, abnormal fatigue, sleep disturbances, and changes in appetite.

What causes seasonal depression?

The exact cause of SAD is not fully understood, but it’s believed to be related to the reduced level of sunlight in fall and winter. There are also linkages between melatonin levels – a hormone your body naturally produces in response to darkness – and SAD.

It’s been shown that winter-pattern SAD can:

  • Disrupt your body’s internal clock (circadian rhythm), leading to feelings of sadness or depression.
  • Lead to a drop in serotonin, a brain chemical that affects mood, which can be triggered by reduced sunlight.
  • Impact regular sleep patterns and mood due to a drop in melatonin.

Does seasonal depression affect you more as you age?

Luckily, the answer to this question is seemingly “no” (phew). SAD can affect individuals of any age, but there are a few factors that make older adults vulnerable, including:

Reduced mobility: Limitations in physical activity can restrict exposure to natural sunlight or a natural boost of endorphins, exacerbating the symptoms of SAD.

Social isolation: Older adults often face greater social isolation if they live alone or away from family and friends, which can intensify feelings of depression during the winter months. For those living in a senior living community, it’s nice to have community support at all times of the year!

Health issues: Existing health problems or the stress of managing chronic conditions can compound the effects of SAD.

7 helpful tips for combating seasonal depression

There are some effective strategies to combat the winter blues and maintain mental well-being. Here are some valuable tips tailored to older adults to navigate and alleviate seasonal depression:

1. Maximize your natural light exposure

The lack of sunlight in winter months is a key contributor to seasonal depression. For older adults, maximizing your exposure to natural light can have a significant positive impact. Try:

  • Opening the curtains: Make it a routine to open curtains and blinds first thing when you wake up to let in as much natural light as possible throughout the day.
  • Spending as much time as possible outdoors: Even a short daily walk outside, weather permitting, can be beneficial. The fresh air combined with daylight can do wonders for your mood.
  • Light therapy: Consider using a light therapy box. These devices mimic natural outdoor light and are commonly used to treat SAD. If you have questions about this type of therapy you can do at home, please consult a healthcare provider. 

2. Maintain a regular exercise routine

Physical activity is a proven mood booster at any time of the year, but especially in the darker months. For older adults, maintaining a consistent exercise routine is essential for improving your mood. Try:

  • Indoor exercise: Activities like stretching, aerobics, yoga, or indoor walking on a treadmill can lead to a bump in endorphins. Many community centers or senior living communities like ours offer low-impact, older adult-friendly exercise options as well.

3. Stay socially connected as much as possible

Isolation can exacerbate feelings of depression. Maintaining social connections is vital, especially during the winter. Try:

Cheerful mature adult woman of Pacific Islander descent smiles and talks with her husband while working as a volunteer preparing meals for those in need. Charity and relief work concept.
  • Attending community events: Participate in events at local senior centers, clubs, or religious organizations. If you live in a senior living community, ask about their packed calendar of activities and events!
  • Utilizing technology to connect: Use video calls to stay in touch with family and friends. If you need some iPhone use tips, we have you covered!
  • Volunteering: If possible, engage in volunteer work. It’s a great way to feel connected and purposeful. 

4. Establish a routine

A structured daily routine can provide a sense of normalcy and purpose, which is especially helpful when days seem monotonous. Try:

  • Setting regular times for activities: This goes for meals, exercise, social activities, and even relaxation.
  • Planning your week out: Having a schedule of activities to look forward to can help boost your mood and keep your week moving seamlessly. To get you started on planning your week, try including some meals with friends or family, time to read a new book, movie showings at your local theater, or a walk outside on your schedule.

5. Pursue a new (or existing) hobby or interest

Couple Senior drawing at art. Side view portrait of white haired senior woman holding palette painting pictures at easel in art studio.

Engaging in hobbies or learning new skills can be an effective antidote to depression. Try:

  • Creative activities: Knitting, painting, woodworking, or several other creative outlets can be therapeutic.
  • Learning something new: Consider online courses or local classes that might pique your interest. One of the biggest benefits of living in a senior living community like ours is that there are constantly new activities happening that you can try out to find a new interest. 

6. Maintain a healthy diet

What you eat can impact your mood and energy levels. Try:

  • Balancing your diet: Focus on a diet rich in vegetables, fruits, whole grains, and lean proteins.
  • Stay hydrated: Ensure you’re drinking enough water throughout the day.

7. Seek professional help, as needed

There is no shame in needing support from professionals – if your feelings of depression are overwhelming, it’s important to seek help from a trusted healthcare professional. Try:

  • Talking to your doctor: They can provide guidance and, if necessary, medication to help manage SAD.
  • Scheduling a therapy appointment: Counseling or therapy can be beneficial in discussing what’s on your mind, working through your depressive feelings, and managing SAD throughout the season.

Do you feel prepared to manage seasonal depression in the coming months?

Battling seasonal depression is not about making huge life changes – it’s about taking small, consistent steps to improve your overall well-being. Remember, it’s essential to acknowledge your feelings and understand that it’s okay to seek help. By adopting these strategies, you can better navigate the challenges of seasonal depression and enjoy a more comfortable and joyful winter season.

If you need support from your Sonida Senior Living care team, reach out to us. We’re here for you!