Seasonal Affective Disorder & How To Treat It
You leave for work in the morning—it’s dark. You come home at night from work—it’s dark once again. It’s cold outside, you’re wearing multiple layers and as a result, look like Randy from A Christmas Story when he’s too bundled up. (If you haven’t watched this iconic 1983 holiday movie—don’t waste any more time not knowing it!) - But I digress…During Standard Time (turning the clocks back one hour), you probably don’t see much sunlight during the day, either because you’re stuck in the office a lot, or its one of those cloudy/rainy days. This all could make anyone not particularly a fan of the Fall/Winter months. For others though, it could go deeper than just not liking those seasons. There are those that really get affected by the changes of the colder months on a whole other level, and it’s actually a form of depression called Seasonal Affective Disorder, (SAD). If you know you’re already affected by this, you’ll notice that SAD begins and ends typically the same time each year for you. Most who have SAD start to see signs at the start of the Fall and continue into the Winter. Some symptoms include feeling moody and drained—but more than usual. Believe it or not, there are those that also experience SAD in the Spring and Summer. There are other warning signs involved with SAD that you might not have realized, but thankfully there are ways to treat it.
Spring and Summer days are considered by many their favorite because there’s always a reason to be outside longer due to more sunlight. The warmth from the sun also elevates your mood and replenishes you with Vitamin D. So when Fall and Winter approach, we definitely see a change in the weather and what we think we are limited to, due to the colder temperatures.
Symptoms of SAD may include:
Feeling depressed daily- and a good portion of each day
Loss of interest in your favorite activities
Feeling drained/sluggish or agitated
Changes in your appetite or weight
Feeling hopeless, unworthy or guilty
Frequent thoughts of death or suicide
Symptoms of Fall/Winter SAD: a.k.a Winter Depression:
Appetite Changes – especially craving high carbohydrates
Symptoms of Spring/Summer (SAD) a.k.a – Summer Depression:
Agitated or high anxiety
Bi-Polar Disorder Affected by Seasonal Changes:
Some people may experience mania or less intense forms of mania (hypomania) during the Spring/Summer. Mania is an abnormally elated mental state involving periods of euphoria, lack of inhibitions, racing thoughts, a diminished need for sleep, talkativeness, risk-taking, and irritability. For the Fall/Winter – there could be signs of depression.
So why are some people affected by seasonal changes? The concrete reason is still unknown, but there may be some conclusions. Possibly a person’s biological clock may be affected. The reduced level of sunlight in the cooler seasons may trigger SAD. Less sunlight may disrupt your body’s internal clock and may lead to depression. A drop in serotonin which is the brain chemical that affects your mood might be another reason which is caused by reduced sunlight. Melatonin levels may be unbalanced causing lack of sleep and ranges of emotion. Women seem to be diagnosed more than men with SAD and in younger adults. Your family history and having major depression or bipolar symptoms, in general, may also increase the chances of having SAD. You might even live far from the equator—far north or south.
I will mention shortly ways to break free from SAD, but first--if you feel the following solutions aren’t working, you may want to see a doctor if you continue to feel more than usual-- socially withdrawn--isolated, mood swings, have frequent school or work problems, turn to substance abuse, may develop mental health disorders such as anxiety or eating disorders, and have constant thoughts suicidal or behavior.
Ten Ways To Treat SAD:
Exercise: In the Winter, it may be hard to exercise outside, but try working out at home while watching work-out videos, joining classes or signing up for a gym. Exercise with someone you know that can also motivate you.
Plan get-togethers: Keep yourself active by making plans with friends to see a movie, paint, go out to dinner, see a play, go to a concert, etc
Plan a Vacation: Try to schedule a vacation somewhere warm. You don’t have to break your wallet to do so-just find a place that’s at least ten to twenty degrees warmer than where you currently live now.
Try to go outside when it’s cold: Even though the temperatures may be chilly, just standing outside for a few minutes to be in the sun in some way, may help you feel that there’s light around you.
Open your shades: Let the sunlight into your home by lifting up all the shades, blinds or open your shutters. To constantly stay in darkness will make your mood drop.
Eat healthily and drink more water: Try not to eat heavy or extremely filling foods. What you intake adds to how you emotionally feel. If you start to eat for example more organic, or gluten-free foods, you might notice a difference. Clear your system also by drinking eight – eight-ounce glasses daily.
Reiki/Yoga/Meditation: Practicing any of these natural healing methods can help reduce stress, bring balance, more flexibility, clarity, strength, confidence, and more energy to your mind, body, and soul.
See a therapist or take a holistic – medical approach: Talking to someone about how you’re feeling will enable you to free yourself from heavy lingering thoughts you might have. There may be other options to look explore without the need for prescription drugs. Perhaps acupuncture?
Bring nature to you: Place plants or flowers by your bed or in your home. Listen to nature music with classical sounds added. When you combine these together, it will help you feel more connected to the outside even if you can’t be where it’s warmer. Dan Gibson’s Solitude Collection is a perfect example of this.
LightBox Therapy actually is a popular way to cope with mild Seasonal Affective Disorder. This imitates the Sun’s rays and can be used every day in your home. Using the light box in the morning preferably would give you the most results as it will motivate you at the start of your day. You can have this box on while you’re doing your normal routine in the morning such as laundry, cleaning, cooking, talking on the phone, reading, etc.
If you find there are other ways that you treat SAD that aren’t mentioned above, please—keep doing what works best for you and if you want to switch-up your results, possibly add in the other ten above. It’s all up to you and what you’re comfortable with. I can definitely say, I feel in some way the effects of shorter daylight hours—sometimes when coming home from work, I feel it’s already late by the time I get home and the thought of going to the gym after work seems too much to fathom. I’d just rather curl up on the couch with a blanket and stay cozy. Other times on the weekend, I think it’s already 9 pm on a Sunday night, but in actuality, it’s only 6 pm. I also feel that frustrated feeling mid part of Winter, when you’ve just had enough of wearing your “Eskimo coat” every day. What I try to do, to cope with the Winter blues, is: look forward to the holidays, watch holiday movies, drink hot chocolate, listen to music that makes me feel energized, do Yoga, and find the time to give myself “me time” at home-. This ranges from catching up on my reading, writing, anything around the house that needs to get done and making time for friends and family.
Remember, there’s nothing wrong with seeking guidance and extra help if treating SAD on your own gets complicated. It’s better, to be honest with yourself and seek out solutions then struggle and lose control of how you feel. Stay warm, inspired and comforted this Fall/Winter!
Resources for this article from the following websites: Active Beat and The Mayo Clinic.