It’s cold and dark outside and Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD) affects many people this time of year.
Sometimes, it’s dark when you wake up and drive to work, and still dark when you’re driving home.
The darkness, cold, and lack of sunlight can certainly take a toll.
During the winter, when it all becomes too much, you might wonder, “Do I have Seasonal Affective Disorder?”
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What is Seasonal Affective Disorder?
Seasonal Affective Disorder (or SAD, as it’s commonly called), or seasonal depression, is a mood disorder that can begin in any season, but typically occurs in winter, beginning in late fall/early winter, sometimes lasting until early spring. SAD has been known to affect millions of people in the US, disrupting even more lives with milder cases, sometimes known as the “winter blues.
What is it Caused By?
While it’s difficult to name the exact causes of SAD, it is known to be connected to our hormones, and that certain times of year we produce less of the “feel good” hormone serotonin our bodies need to be healthy. When those hormones are not able to regulate our bodies and mood as normal, depression-like symptoms can kick in. Lack of sunlight plays a part in this, and very often we associate SAD with wintertime.
What are Typical Symptoms?
SAD, or seasonal depression symptoms can range, but typical symptoms include fatigue, sadness, irritability, weight gain and increased appetite. Others might feel hopeless and others might desire to be alone. Either way, patients usually have less energy and want to sleep more.
How can I manage SAD?
Talking with your doctor or licensed online therapist can be incredibly beneficial, as they can often prescribe medication to alleviate symptoms. As well, speaking with a trained, trusted therapist about your depression symptoms can be a step in the right direction.
Other simple ways that will help you address SAD in your daily life:
- Light therapy can be helpful: sitting in front of a full-spectrum light therapy box can be an easy way to alleviate symptoms. Using a light box for 20-30 minutes a day can help those that struggle with Seasonal Affective Disorder
- Spending time outside: a simple way that can help those that suffer from SAD is to spend time outside. Finding time for a walk during daylight hours can be incredibly helpful during winter, to help regulate the body’s mood and hormones.
- Eating a balanced diet: making a point to fill up on healthy fats, fruits, vegetables and proteins can combat sugar and carbohydrate cravings. Taking time to eat mindfully will help your body find a healthy combination of foods to support you in the winter season.
- Spending time connecting with others: during the winter, and anytime really, cultivating relationships is key to good mental health. Finding time to spend with friends and family, social circles and supportive communities can be an antidote to SAD symptoms. Surrounding yourself with caring people can help combat feelings of loneliness during the winter season.
- Vitamin D: Vitamins and supplements can offer support to those who struggle with SAD. Depending on where you live, dosages might vary, but additional Vitamin D can counter the limited sun exposure needed for healthy bones, immunity, and mood.
- Meditation, breath work, and simple stretching: these are helpful ways to feel more aligned and in sync with our bodies. When our natural waking rhythms don’t match with the sun, our bodies can feel off and groggy. Taking time to center ourselves and feeling into our bodies can gently lift our spirits.
- Travel: take a sun break! Sometimes traveling to a different geographic location (think sunny weather, pools, and palm trees) is all we need to find the temporary sunny relief our bodies and minds need in the middle of winter. Budgeting for a vacation between December and March can be the perfect present for our winter selves. And, knowing that seasons change(!), and that spring and summer are around the corner can offer us solace, too.
Winter is a wonderful season to celebrate coziness, warmth, and rest, but it can be a hard few months for many of us. If you’re struggling this winter and feel like it might be SAD, or seasonal depression, speaking with an online therapist can help. Seasonal Affective Disorder and seasonal depression symptoms can often mirror those of depression and sadness, so prioritizing mental health and taking good care of ourselves in the winter months is vital. Feeling supported and healthy all year long can help us find beauty in every season.
Lindsey Ferris, MS, LMFTA, Washington State