As the leaves fall from the trees and the sun sets before 6 p.m., some people look forward to the change of seasons. For others, this time of year can cause a change in mood that can last for months or until the season changes again.
This shift in mood is known as seasonal affective disorder (SAD). SAD is a mood disorder which is characterized by depression that usually occurs at the same time each year.
It typically begins in the late fall or early winter and goes away during the spring and summer months. Another form of SAD referred to as summer pattern SAD or summer depression takes place during the spring and summer months. However, this is less common.
SAD isn’t considered a separate disorder, it’s a type of depression and the signs and symptoms mirror those of major depression.
Symptoms may include:
- Feeling depressed most of the day
- Loss of interest in activities once enjoyed
- Trouble sleeping
- Changes in appetite or weight
- Irritability or agitation
- Having low energy
- Feeling hopeless or worthless
- Difficulty concentrating
- Having frequent thoughts of death or suicide
Like with many other mental disorders, seasonal affective disorder presents itself differently in every person.
SAD occurs more in women than men and is more common in places where daylight is shorter during the winter.
SAD is also common in people with bipolar disorder.
Feeling yourself go into a depression without knowing why is frustrating. Seasonal depression is often called the “winter blues” but dealing with depression is more severe than just feeling blue. If you’re not treating your depression, it can get worse.
When it comes to treatment and self-care for SAD, there are several things you can try that may be effective.
Treatment and Self-care
Light therapy exposes an individual to artificial light. During light therapy, you’ll sit near a lightbox that emits a strong light that mimics sunlight. The length of time a person sits in front of the lightbox depends on how they respond to the therapy. This is effective for people struggling with SAD because of the lack of sunlight during the cooler seasons.
Psychotherapy is a type of talk therapy such as cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT). During CBT you’ll have sessions with a licensed therapist. Cognitive-behavioral therapy can help you identify as well as change the negative thought patterns to more positive ones. It can also help you find healthy ways to cope with SAD and learn how to manage stress.
Your doctor may prescribe antidepressants to help treat SAD. For some, symptoms are so severe and disruptive to life that medication is needed. Be mindful that it can take several weeks for the medication to reach its full effect. As with most other medications, there are a number of side effects to be aware of. Some common side effects of antidepressants are:
- Weight gain
- Diarrhea or constipation
- Loss of appetite
- Low sex drive
- Insomnia or hypersomnia
- Feeling anxious or agitated
- Dry mouth
- Blurring of vision
- Worsening depression
It’s important that you talk to your doctor if these symptoms persist.
Spend Time Outdoors
While it may be cold outside, getting in the habit of spending time outside each day is good for depression. Nature offers many healing benefits. Take a short walk or sit outside for a few minutes each day when you wake up.
A regular meditation practice can help you sit with and work through painful feelings and can also ease anxiety. You don’t have to meditate for a long time to reap the benefits. Even just 5-15 minutes a day can help. If you’re new to meditation, I always recommend trying guided meditations which you can find on Youtube or the Insight Timer app.
Move Your Body
The physical health benefits of exercising are endless; however, exercising is also great for your mental health. Exercise improves mood and reduces stress.
Practices like yoga can help ground you which is helpful when you’re depressed.
Aim for 20-30 minutes of movement multiple times a week.
Make Plans with Friends or Family
Something else you can try to combat seasonal depression is making plans with your friends or family. It’s common to want to stay in bed hiding under the covers all day when dealing with depression. Making yourself get up and do something with the people that care about you can help.
During this time, it’s crucial that you surround yourself with people who uplift you because depression is already trying to weigh you down.
Nourish Your Body with Healthy Foods
We all love comfort food when we’re feeling down but if you’re struggling with SAD, try to nourish your body with clean and healthy foods. Incorporate more fruits and veggies into your diet. This can give you more energy and boost your mood.
Find A New Hobby
When we’re depressed, we often lose interest in the things we once enjoyed. Depression causes you to feel drained and not have the energy to do anything. In order to work through depression, we have to find ways to cope.
Discovering a new hobby can be challenging when you’re feeling apathetic but once you find something that you enjoy doing, it may boost your mood.
I always recommend journaling as a way to release your feelings and work through them. Keeping a journal in which you write daily can help you cope with stress and depression. Journaling is also a great way to keep track of any symptoms you’re experiencing.
If you start to feel yourself going downhill, try starting a daily writing practice.
Coping with Seasonal Affective Disorder
Another way you can cope with seasonal affective disorder is by practicing gratitude. Even on days where we’re at our lowest, there is always something to be grateful for. Keep a list in your phone or in a notebook of things you’re grateful for. Lastly, if your depression is to the point where you’re experiencing suicidal thoughts, make a list of reasons to live. This list can be compiled of anything. Anything you deem worthy of a reason to live.
You don’t have to face depression alone. Not only is help available but there are so many resources on the internet. I know firsthand how crippling depression is. It takes so much from you. It robs you of truly living life but with the right treatment and self-care practices, things will improve.