The winter is definitely in full force right now and the gray days are piling up, so I thought it might be beneficial to address the issue of seasonal affective disorder! People with seasonal affective disorder can fall on a long sprectrum from feeling “off” or “blah-ish” to depression. The Mayo Clinic says the following about SAD:
“Seasonal affective disorder (also called SAD) is a type of depression that occurs at the same time every year. If you’re like most people with seasonal affective disorder, your symptoms start in the fall and may continue into the winter months, sapping your energy and making you feel moody. Less often, seasonal affective disorder causes depression in the spring or early summer.” – Mayo Clinic
SAD can present in a number of ways, including the following: loss of energy, hopelessness, social isolation, desire to increase sleeping time, loss of interest, and weight gain. Again, these can all be on a spectrum of intensity, from mild to severe.
If you struggle with SAD, here are a few tips:
- Look into Light Therapy. You can purchase a light box with lights in it that mimic outdoor light. This is incredibly helpful for those very gray weeks throughout the winter! These light boxes can not only help increase mood, but because they mimic daylight, can be incredibly beneficial for helping you to wake up in the morning. You can read more about light boxes here (and make sure to talk to your doctor before purchasing)!
- Don’t isolate! Depression often tells us to isolate, but the problem is that isolation is the fuel for depression. No matter how much you want to isolate, understand that it is counterproductive! Scheduling low-key activities with close friends would be beneficial, even when you don’t feel like it.
- Medication. Medication can be used to treat SAD. Talk to your doctor to determine if medicine might be helpful to you.
- MOVE! When we’re struggling with SAD, it can be difficult to have any desire to walk or exercise. Not only does exercise produce endorphins (think “happy”!), exercising continues to put your body and mind on a healthy track. Again, trying to exercise even when you don’t want to is healthy. Perhaps getting a workout buddy would be helpful to help motivate you! My mood has been SO much better since I’ve trained for half marathons throughout January, February, and March.
- Continue to eat healthy foods. Sometimes when we start to feel depressed, we eat increasingly more comfort foods which often aren’t healthy. The problem with that is that it makes us more sluggish and decreases our energy (on top of the SAD), making our situation even worth. Stocking up on protein, veggies, fruit, and other energy giving foods is important!
- Schedule things to look forward to! Having things to look forward to many nights a week (both “little things” and big things), can be helpful and motivating. Plan out a few things over the next few weeks that you can look forward to. Potential things might be a massage, manicure, extra exercise class at the gym, meeting with a personal trainer, dinner and a movie, an overnight trip, etc…
- Try to decrease catastrophizing language. It’s easy to start using extreme words to describe the current weather situation (“horrible, terrible, miserable”, etc…). These words tend to just rile us up a bit and increase how badly we feel. I wish I could impress upon each of you how absolutely important it is to watch the words that you choose to use.
- Embrace the shades of gray. Again, the idea behind this is to watch the words that you use, and work to not use extreme language. Go back and read my entire post on that, as I think it’s beneficial and helpful.
- Increase healthy thought patterns. This might be one of the most important things in dealing with SAD. The Thought Record, as well as the REBT self help form, might be helpful for you in this area.
I want to emphasize that if you believe that you have SAD or are experiencing symptoms of depression, contact your doctor or a local therapist. If you are having suicidal thoughts or thoughts of self harm, please call 9-1-1 or go to the hospital immediately.
Now it’s your turn to share! Have you ever experienced seasonal affective disorder? What do you do to try to deal with SAD?
*Disclaimer: This post is not intended to take the place of professional advice. As stated above, if you feel that you might have SAD or are experiencing depression, please contact a local therapist or doctor.