It seems as though shorter days and cooler temperatures are now upon us, leaving many people with low mood and less energy. For some 1 to 3 per cent of the population, this could lead to a type of depression called Seasonal Affective Disorder. This type of depression can persist during the fall and winter months for many but also affects some people during the warmer summer months.
What is SAD? According to the Mayo Clinic, seasonal affective disorder is a form of depression that primarily affects people during the fall and winter months when there is less daylight, particularly in locations farther from the equator. This lack of light can disturb the internal clock and may lead to feelings of depression. The change in seasons can also influence the body’s melatonin and serotonin, which are natural chemicals in the brain that play a role in sleep timing and mood. When combined, these factors may lead to SAD.
Seasonal affective disoder is more than just feeling blue during the colder weather months. It involves persistent symptoms of depression, including feeling sad, angry or irritable more days than not. For many who live with SAD, it can mean losing interest in once pleasurable activities, persistent tiredness that leads to sleeping more, and increased appetite, particularly for carbohydrates and sugary snacks. Some people may engage in suicidal ideation.
There is hope for those living with SAD, however. There are many ways to combat SAD, including engaging in regular exercise, maintaining a healthy diet, avoiding sugar and alcohol and getting as much natural light as possible. Many people also benefit from light therapy and light boxes can be purchased at many stores. Many people also benefit from medication to combat symptoms of depression, as well. Maintaining a regular sleep/wake cycle can also help combat SAD.
When living with SAD, it is particularly important to practice good self-care. This can mean anything from engaging in healthy activities such as reading or getting massages if that is within your budget to practicing yoga or other exercise. Many people also benefit from guided meditation.
Some people also find that the holiday season leaves them with sadness. For those who find the holidays challenging, it is good to remember that it is okay to start new traditions for yourself and your family so that you can enjoy this busy season the way you want to. Many people are reminded of lost loved ones during the holiday season and it is okay to take care of yourself in healthy ways during this time. What sorts of healthy activities do you enjoy? Are there hobbies you have been interested in that you might make time for during these colder weather months? Perhaps you have always wanted to try snowshoeing. When we start seeing snow, it might be a good thing to try.
Seasonal affective disorder affects many people. It may be helpful to remind yourself that you are not alone in finding the winter months challenging. If you find yourself struggling with suicidal thoughts, please reach out to a trusted other or mental health professional or dial 988 to speak to a counselor 24/7/365. We can combat SAD by engaging in healthy habits and by offering ourselves kindness and compassion. What things might you be able to do to take care of yourself during these months? How can you treat yourself with kindness?
~ Karri Christiansen, MSW, LSW, CADC, CCTP