Managing Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD)
Happy Fall/Winter! This is one of my favorite times of the year with the clean, crisp air and the leaves changing color. However, I am not a fan of the shorter days and colder weather. It can sometimes bring me down. Have you ever noticed a change in moods during the Fall and Winter months? If so, you may be experiencing Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD). The acronym is ironic, because the change in seasons, especially this time of year, can cause people to become sad and have other changes in moods.
According to the National Institute of Mental Health, Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD), also called winter depression, winter blues, and seasonal depression, is a type of depression in which people who have normal mental health throughout most of the year exhibit depressive symptoms that come with changing seasons. It typically starts in the late fall and early winter and goes away during the spring and summer. Depressive episodes linked to the summer can occur, but are much less common than winter episodes of SAD.
This is actually a little early for symptoms of SAD to kick in, which is why I wanted to share this now. Just like squirrels and chipmunks store nuts and other goodies to get them through the winter months, it is helpful for us to prepare early as well. This is even more important if you live with dystonia or any other chronic health condition because you may already experience depression. This means we must be even more vigilant in battling SAD.
Symptoms of SAD include low energy, a depressed mood, feelings of hopelessness, difficulty concentrating, feeling agitated, changes in sleep and appetite, a loss of pleasure in activities, social withdrawal (feel like “hibernating”), lethargy, and apathy, among other things.
Researchers have yet to uncover the specific cause for SAD, but it is believed that several factors are at play. The reduction in sunlight in winter can throw our biological clock out of whack and disrupt hormones such as serotonin and melatonin, which regulate sleep, mood, and feelings of well-being.
If you are young and female, you are at an increased risk for SAD. People who live farther from the equator or have a family history of depression also experience the symptoms more frequently. People with SAD also may produce less Vitamin D. Vitamin D is believed to play a role in serotonin activity. Most standard blood tests now check vitamin D levels. I encourage you to have yours checked, as it may play a role in SAD and other unwanted conditions.
Although we can’t fight nature’s pattern of light and temperature, there are things we can do to combat the intensity of SAD symptoms and lift our mood. These include going outside more often and getting plenty of sunlight, exercising, getting plenty of sleep, getting involved with more social activities, and practicing relaxation exercises and stress management. It also helps to make your house brighter; trim the bushes around your windows and keep your blinds and curtains open during the day. Use bright colors on walls and light-colored upholstery.
Get up early to take advantage of as much daylight as possible. If possible, sit near a window at work. Also consider light therapy. There are several devices available, from battery powered visors, portable light boxes and special light bulbs, to dawn simulators (lamps that switch on before dawn and gradually light your room, like the sun rising).
It is also very important to stay connected with others. As the weather changes, we all seem to go back indoors and, too often, this isolation contributes to feelings of depression and anxiety. Don’t “hibernate.” Reach out to the people in your life whom you feel your best around. Last, but not least, treat yourself to some fun without guilt. Take that trip, buy those shoes, see that movie, get a massage… pamper yourself and have fun doing it!
Tom Seaman is a Certified Professional Life Coach in the area of health and wellness, and the author of 2 books: Diagnosis Dystonia: Navigating the Journey (2015) and Beyond Pain and Suffering: Adapting to Adversity and Life Challenges (2021). He is also a motivational speaker, chronic pain and dystonia awareness advocate, health blogger, volunteer for the Dystonia Medical Research Foundation (DMRF) as a support group leader, and is a member and volunteer writer for Chronic Illness Bloggers Network, The Mighty, and Patient Worthy. To learn more about Tom, get a copy of his books (also on Amazon), or schedule a free life coaching consult, visit www.tomseamancoaching.com. Follow him on Twitter @Dystoniabook1 and Instagram.