Heading into the Fall and Winter seasons can be filled with so many new and exciting things such as cozying up by a bonfire and enjoying smores with friends, leaves changing colors, holiday celebrations, snow days filled with playful activities, and more. However, seasonal change can also bring about other aspects that we might not look forward to so much. Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD) affects many individuals as we enter the fall and winter seasons. Often called the winter blues, SAD is more than just periods of sadness, it is a form of depression characterized by the seasonal patterns. SAD can lead people to experience debilitating symptoms that can impair their daily functioning and leave those who struggle feeling hopeless. Although there is no clear cause of SAD, it has been correlated with changes in seasons, drop in temperature, enduring shorter days, longer nights, and is more prevalent in the colder winter months of January and February leading into Spring.
Symptoms of SAD can include:
- Feeling depressed most of the day, nearly every day
- Losing interest in activities you once enjoyed
- Experiencing changes in appetite or weight
- Change in sleep, usually increase in sleep
- Feeling sluggish or agitated
- Having low energy or increased fatigue despite increased sleep hours
- Feeling hopeless, worthless, or guilty
- Having difficulty concentrating or making decisions
- Having frequent thoughts of death or suicide
Combatting Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD) requires a proactive approach, including implementing coping skills that can serve to boost mood throughout the winter months and manage ongoing symptoms. Here are effective strategies to help individuals navigate and mitigate the impact of SAD:
- Light Therapy (Phototherapy): Mimic natural sunlight with a lightbox, exposing yourself to bright light for a designated period each day. Studies have shown sitting in front of a lightbox for 20-30 minutes within the first hour of waking has been believed to regulate your circadian rhythm and boost mood.
- Regular Exercise: Engage in regular physical activity, whether it’s a brisk walk, yoga, or a workout session at home or at a gym. Exercise releases endorphins, the body’s natural mood lifters, helping counter the effects of SAD.
- Mindfulness and Meditation: Practice mindfulness techniques and meditation to center your mind, reduce stress, and enhance self-awareness. Mindfulness can help manage symptoms of depression and anxiety associated with SAD.
- Healthy Eating Habits: Craving carbohydrate rich foods (starches and sweets) has been linked to a symptom of SAD. Maintaining a balanced diet rich in fruits, vegetables, whole grains, and proteins can support your mood and energy levels.
- Social Interaction: Despite the desire to isolate during the winter months, try to connect with loved ones. Engage in social activities, virtual or in-person, to combat feelings of loneliness and boost your spirits.
- Creative Expression: Channel your emotions and energy into creative outlets like art, writing, or music. Expressing yourself can be therapeutic and provide a sense of accomplishment.
- Establish a Routine: Create a daily routine to add structure and stability to your days. Consistency in your schedule can alleviate feelings of chaos and uncertainty. This can include establishing a sleep hygiene routine, a scheduled wake time, eating on a regular schedule, etc.
- Nature Exposure: Spend time outdoors, even in colder weather. Fresh air and exposure to natural light, even on cloudy days, can positively impact your mood and overall well-being. Getting outside can be difficult in cold and snowy weather, letting sunshine in by keeping your blinds open throughout the day to get some natural light can also be effective.
- Therapy/Counseling: Seek professional help from a therapist experienced in treating SAD. Cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT) and other therapeutic approaches can provide invaluable tools and strategies to manage SAD effectively.
- Consult With Your Doctor: SAD is a form of depression. Share your concerns and symptoms with your primary care physician or psychiatrist if you notice that symptoms continue to escalate in severity and frequency. You and your doctor can establish a plan of care that might include medication or alternative remedies.
- Self-Care Practices: Prioritize self-care by engaging in activities that bring you joy and relaxation. This could be reading, taking a long bath, engaging in a hobby, or simply dedicating time to pamper yourself.
- Plan Winter Activities: Anticipate the winter season by planning enjoyable activities like holiday gatherings, hobbies, or winter sports. Having events to look forward to can boost your mood and motivation.
Remember, it’s crucial to tailor coping strategies to your unique needs and preferences. Consulting a mental health professional and your doctor can provide personalized guidance and support in managing Seasonal Affective Disorder. If you are experiencing any of the above symptoms and are seeking help, here are additional resources:
- Therapy services offered virtually via secure telehealth platform: https://idalillie.com/
- National Suicide Prevention Hotline: 1-800-273-8255
- Blackline (Peer support and counseling prioritizing BIPOC): (800) 604-5841 (call or text)