With the shift in seasons and winter right around the corner, you may feel down and unmotivated. Most people experience the “winter blues,” but when it starts interfering with your everyday life, you may be experiencing SAD or Seasonal Affective Disorder.
What is SAD?
SAD is a type of depression that happens when the seasons change. It’s also called seasonal depression. Most symptoms begin in the fall and last through the winter months. Less commonly, SAD can happen in the summer season.
Nearly half a million Americans experience symptoms of winter-related SAD each year. Women are more likely to experience SAD than men, and those with a family history of depression, bipolar disorder, or SAD are at greater risk.
While the exact cause of SAD is unknown, it’s often linked to reduced exposure to sunlight during the shorter autumn and winter days.
SAD treatment options:
Light therapy- Light therapy uses artificial light from lightboxes to copy natural sunlight. The treatment typically involves sitting in front of a light box that emits fluorescent light for 30 to 45 minutes each morning, and it’s considered the most effective treatment for SAD.
Sunlight-If the sun is out, go outside to get some natural sunlight! This helps your body produce vitamin D and serotonin, both mood boosters.
Psychotherapy-Psychotherapy can help patients with SAD recognize and change negative thoughts and behavior, manage stress, and learn healthy coping mechanisms.
Vitamin D– Many people with Seasonal Affective Disorder are found to have a deficiency of Vitamin D. Your primary care doctor will need to run blood work, and if you have a Vitamin D deficiency, your doctor will recommend supplementation to correct it.
What can YOU do at home?
Get Exercise. Research has shown that 20-30 minutes of cardiovascular exercise each day can effectively treat depression. Physical activity helps relieve stress and anxiety, which can increase SAD symptoms.
Stick to your treatment plan. Follow your treatment plan and attend therapy appointments when scheduled.
Go Outside. Getting as much natural sunlight as possible during the winter is highly recommended.
Limit alcohol intake. Alcohol is a depressant, so it is essential to limit your alcohol intake.
Socialize. When you’re feeling down, it can be hard to be social. You can make an effort to connect with people you enjoy being around. They can offer support, a shoulder to cry on, or shared laughter to give you a little boost.
Practice stress management. Learn techniques to manage your stress better. Unmanaged stress can lead to depression, overeating, or other unhealthy thoughts and behaviors.
Get a good night’s rest- Going to bed, getting up at about the same time each day, and being sure to sleep for at least eight hours each night are essential for treating SAD. Get enough sleep to help you feel rested, but be careful not to get too much rest, as SAD symptoms often lead people to feel like hibernating.
MY EXPERIENCE WITH SAD
It can be hard to open up about any mental illness. Often, I’m asked, “Are you okay?” or “How are you feeling?” I lie because sometimes it’s easier not to open up. We find it easier to bottle it up and put it aside. However, learning where to seek help or support during these times is very important.
I have struggled with depression for over fifteen years. I always had difficulty adjusting when the seasons changed, especially around daylight saving time. My energy levels are low, my appetite and sleep are affected, and I have difficulty concentrating. It’s hard to stay on task and complete projects, especially when you don’t feel like yourself. I sought help and was prescribed an antidepressant and lightbox therapy, often used to treat SAD. While medication and lightbox are not a “cure-all” for me, the combination does make it manageable.
SAD is often an isolating experience, but we don’t need to face these challenging moments alone. By sharing a personal account of what it means to have SAD, I hope it helps others to think about their challenges and look for the support they need.
WHEN TO SEE A PROFESSIONAL
If you feel down for days at a time and you can’t get motivated to do activities you usually enjoy, please see your doctor. This is especially important if your sleep patterns and appetite have changed, you turn to alcohol for comfort or relaxation, or you feel hopeless or think about suicide.
As always, thank you for taking the time to read my blog. I hope this provides some insight into SAD and that you know you are NOT alone. SAD is ubiquitous and manageable. Don’t brush off that feeling as simply a case of the “winter blues” you must tough out on your own. Take control of your mental health and talk to your doctor if you are experiencing symptoms of seasonal affective disorder.