1. Volunteer somewhere to get out of your own head.
Volunteering at an animal shelter is my favorite way to get myself out of a dark hole. Helping those animals — who couldn’t care less if my hair is washed or if I’m wearing makeup or just wearing sweatpants — really shifts my mind and perspective.
2. Try a hands-on hobby — anything from bullet journaling to styling your hair.
I have a lot of hobbies, so I choose whatever I feel like doing at the moment — bullet journaling, coloring, making handmade jewelries, dancing, etc. The bravest thing I did was color my hair in a bold hue. I have a lot of bottles of hair dye and bleach at home, so I do some hair coloring. RIP my hair!
3. Get yourself some cozy winter gear so you feel like you're inside a toasty cocoon while you walk or hike.
I used to get cabin fever during winter because I thought it was too cold to go outside to walk. It didn’t occur to me until this year that I could still walk — I just didn't have the right ultra-warm coat and ultra-warm footwear that would keep me toasty and dry in wind, rain, and snow. Now I look forward to my winter walks and hikes in all weather!
4. Focus on your pets and how you can stay active with them.
I force myself to stay active. Exercise always helps my mood. My dog is my savior. On my worst days when I don’t want to get out of bed I know I have to for him. Our daily walks help a lot.
5. If bathing feels difficult, make it more special with bath bombs or hair masks.
I do lots of self-pampering in the form of face masks, bath bombs, and hair masks. I often dread showering when I’m super depressed and these help make what otherwise feels like a chore, a fun treat.
6. Create a "SAD box" with your favorite things inside.
Every year I make a SAD box. I fill a decorated shoe box with little things that bring me joy, like a new diary, jewelry, a voucher for my favorite coffee shop, and a massage voucher. Once a week, I open the lid and pick something out. It really helps!
8. Write your thoughts down to clear your mind.
I write poetry, prose, music — whatever it is that comes to mind in that moment. Getting it out of my head and onto paper or into a device really helps me process things. It doesn’t necessarily fix everything, and it’s generally not very happy content, but it helps to not have it all overwhelming my mind.
9. Dive into a new class or club.
Get involved in something. Join a book club. Join a recreational sports league. Audition for a show.
I took up improv during my last bout of SAD in grad school and it has made a world of difference. It gets me out of my house and out of my head. Improv has made an enormous impact on my mental health.
10. Knit something for a loved one (or just spend time with them if you're not feeling crafty).
Knitting really helps, especially when I'm making something for someone I love. You have to schedule in time with friends too. If you don't have the energy to clean up for them, go shopping or something. For me, I need a break from the stress and sadness.
12. Schedule in something fun for your evenings.
Try implementing an activity in the evening, like going to a yoga class or seeing a movie.
13. Talk to your healthcare provider about whether or not vitamin D supplements might be helpful.
I know it’s the obvious answer, but vitamin D helps me so much. I went from being constantly crabby to my normal self after a week of taking it.
14. Don't forget about sun lamps, too.
Sun lamps, sun lamps, sun lamps! I’ve had major depression and seasonal affective disorder since I was 12. At 23, my mom bought me a sun lamp because she was so distraught watching me become completely debilitated and suicidal every time November hit. I turn it on and sit facing it for 15 minutes in the morning and the artificial sunlight works wonders.
15. If your SAD occurs in summer, take relief in cool spots, like the movies, or a cold shower.
SAD happens with me in summer. I cope with it by drinking cool drinks, staying in the shadows, taking cold showers, going to places with AC (like a cinema), and, the simplest of all, opening the window after the sunset and feeling the breeze.
BTW, if you still need other ways to take care of yourself, including professional resources, these can help:
You can learn everything you could possibly want to know about therapy here, or get even more ideas for self-care here.
If you need to talk to someone immediately, you can call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-TALK (8255) or by texting HOME to 741741, the Crisis Text Line. Here are suicide helplines outside the US.
Submissions have been edited for length/clarity.