Seasonal Affective Disorder is Not a Myth...
And 5 Things You Can Do To Cope.
Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD) aka Seasonal Depression:
Many of you have most likely noticed, at one point in time or another (or maybe even consistently,) in yourself or someone you know, mood changes that seem to be brought on by the end of the warm and sunny Summer months and the onset of shorter, cooler days. The irritability or lack of motivation is too easily and too often brushed off as “the winter blues,” or a “seasonal funk” that people view as something totally normal that comes and goes, and likely feel that it is something that a person simply must deal with.
Well, I’m here to tell you that there is a good chance the issue has deeper roots than just a “seasonal funk,” the cause of that winter down-in-the-dumps feeling could be attributed to Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD,) commonly known as Seasonal Depression. In fact, according to psychologytoday.com, SAD is estimated to affect nearly 10 million Americans. It is also possible that an additional 10-20 percent of people have a mild form of SAD. While we’re at it, it’s concluded that women are four times as likely as men to suffer from Seasonal Affective Disorder. So, if this sounds like a bunch of malarkey to you and you’re one of those people who are on the fence about the science behind mental health diagnosis, SAD is a very real issue and it can actually upset normal functioning in someone who struggles with it.
The Mayo Clinic recognizes the disorder as follows: “Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD) is a type of depression that’s related to the changes in seasons- SAD begins and ends at about the same times every year. If you’re like most people with SAD, your symptoms start in the Fall and continue into the Winter months, sapping your energy and making you feel moody. Less often, SAD causes depression in early Spring or Summer” (Mayoclinic.org, 2017.) Below I have included the list of symptoms that the Mayo Clinic provides on their SAD information page. The symptoms include, but are not limited to:
• Feeling depressed most of the day, nearly every day.
• Losing interest in activities you once enjoyed
• Low amounts of energy
• Problems with sleeping
• Changes in appetite of weight
• Feeling sluggish or agitated
• Difficulty concentrating
• Feelings of hopelessness, worthlessness, or guilt
• Having frequent thoughts of death or suicide
Those are some of the symptoms that are most commonly associated with the disorder per the DSM-5 diagnostic criteria, however there could be a plethora of additional symptoms to accompany those above, and they differ from person to person (mayoclinic.org, 2017; psychologytoday.com.) Unfortunately, after hours of falling down the rabbit hole that is the world wide web, the general consensus between psychologists and medical professionals is that the cause of SAD is still unknown.
Even though an exact cause for Seasonal Affective Disorder has yet to be pinpointed, there are a couple of factors that may make a person more susceptible. If you live far north, (hey fellow New Englanders!) or far south of the equator, there is more chance of developing SAD, as well as if you have a family history of other types of depression, or if you have severe vitamin D deficiency (you produce inadequate levels of Vitamin D from sunlight exposure) (psychologytoday.com.)
So, with all that being said, the pesky Winter season isn’t going anywhere, but there are a number of ways you can take care of yourself. First, let’s all remind ourselves that self-care isn’t selfish. Self-care allows us to get in touch with ourselves and helps us to understand what makes us, well, us. It doesn’t always need to look like a rose petal bath bomb either. You can decide what your own personal self-care looks like. Meditation, reading a book, listening to your favorite music-basically whatever you do to calm down, that’s it. That can be considered self-care.
Regarding Seasonal Affective Disorder, here is a list of things that I believe can be all-powerful in keeping it at bay:
1. Try to approach the impending Winter with a more positive attitude, (I know it is much easier said than done.) Remind yourself of the things that you do enjoy about that specific time of year. For example, I adore wrapping presents and drinking hot cocoa while I do it. I’m obsessed with the Fall flavor of pumpkin spice and you will have to pry the peppermint mocha blend out of my cold, dead hands in the store if it’s the last one. I love holiday decorations and baking way too many cookies. (If you didn’t already think of me as basic, well there you have it.)
2. Stay Active: Yes, I do understand that it’s really cold outside and maybe even icy, so find some physical activity you can do indoors too. My go to is Zumba classes on demand. Not only to I get the benefit of a great workout, but I happen to be in the comfort of my own living room where the only one there to judge the atrocity I pass off as dancing, is my cat.
3. Invest in a good sunlamp: These things emulate sunlight and have actually been shown to improve mood, motivation and productivity during the darker months. You can have one on your doorstep in as little as 48 hours with services like Amazon. **On the off chance that you do encounter a warmer day in the middle of winter, (global warming is real you know,) take advantage of that sunlight! It’s the most direct way to absorb vitamin D, which is incredibly important to overall health, both mental and physical. There are thousands of convenient vitamin D products on the market, so talk to your doctor and see if it’s something they suggest checking out.
4. (Speaking of doctors) Stay in touch with yours: Make sure you are consistently tracking your mood and energy levels and notify your doc of any changes. You know yourself well enough to know when something feels off, so don’t wait to reach out or make an appointment. Depending on the severity of the Seasonal Affective Disorder, your doctor might talk to about anti-depressants or broad-band light therapy.
5. Lean on your support system: Be it a friend, family member, spouse, whoever, talk to them, get it out there. It’s ok to have a bad day and to communicate when it’s happening, (I promise doing this will help you and those around you feel better.) When I began opening up about the reasons why I was having such sudden and aggressive shifts in mood, it only strengthened my relationships. However, don’t shy away from counseling, especially if you don’t feel ready to be open with loved ones. Finding the right therapist or counselor can honestly feel like magic. I encourage you to talk to someone, as it is often the best medicine.
As always, if you have questions, concerns, suggestions- reach out to me at [email protected], I love to talk.
About the author
I have a new start up blog, www.onebluedahlia.com where the focus is mental health awareness, mindful wellbeing and positivity. I am currently a student at Lesley University in pursuit of my BA in Psychology. Mental health is my passion.