Seasonal Affective Disorder is legit.
The dictionary defines Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD) as, “depression associated with late autumn and winter and thought to be caused by a lack of light.” Having lived in California most of my life I can tell you- I thought this was a myth. But after living in Washington for almost 3 years now I can tell you it is real.
SAD can affect our lives in many ways. As the definition mentions it can have physiological effects on our bodies due to the diminished Vitamin D we receive during months when it gets dark early and there is not a lot of sunlight getting to our skin. It can also influence our mood due to not being outdoors as much. There is a whole branch of therapy that studies the positive influences of eco-therapy (personally I am biased to love it). Chaudhury and Banerjee (2020) studied how, “ecotherapy-related techniques have been shown to be effective in medical disorders like hypertension, obesity, post-surgical recovery and psychosocial conditions like depression, stress reduction, post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), attention deficit hyperkinetic disorder (ADHD) and adjustment disorders.” So being inside all day actually connects to decreases in our mental health!
We can’t really help it. When it is dark and freezing outside it doesn’t seem ideal to spend a lot of time outdoors. So how can we make sure SAD doesn’t derail all the hard work we have done for our mental health before the winter snowballed it?
Down with the SAD-ness
First, you have to know that your symptoms are from SAD and not chronic depression. Talking to a mental health professional, researching symptoms, and keeping track of how you feel other times of the year are great ways to identify the difference between a chronic mental health symptom and SAD.
Secondly, if you have figured out this is a yearly thing that happens only in the winter- check in with what you need. People have gotten very creative in combatting SAD. Some people get light lamps that mimic the light we would receive from the sun. Others might check with their doctors to go on a Vitamin D supplement. Or the new teen trend is to project a video of a window on a dark room that simulates a beautiful day. Whatever you think of- it is time to start planning now!! In Washington the weather has already skipped fall this year and gone directly to winter. If you are in a state where it is slowly getting dark by 5 pm- get ready!
Thirdly, try retraining your brain. Kurlansik and Ibay (2012) reported that Cognitive Behavioral Therapy tools had significant supportive affects on client’s with SAD symptoms. You can find some at home tools or talk to your therapist about ways to incorporate these things into your daily routine. Similar to my last blog post- the way we view self-care needs to change drastically. Get cozy! Find things that help you appreciate being indoors during this time.
Finally, stay connected with others. Whether you live with other people or you connect virtually- keep in contact with the people you care about. Maybe this is going snowboarding, or having a coffee Zoom date. Whatever works for you, try to be consistent so when you feel the symptoms of SAD (depression, low energy, issues sleeping, agitation, hopelessness, see more here) it feels less daunting. If we isolate ourselves, our symptoms of SAD can feel heavy to hold. Being connected to others is a great way to decrease these symptoms.
SAD doesn’t have to rule your winter. Research which of these examples might work well for you and get started! As I mentioned earlier if you are having long lasting symptoms try reaching out to a mental health professional. If you are in the Washington area you can find more on Koger Counseling for Washington based counseling services.