Sad about SAD (Seasonal Affective Disorder)?
It is official; December 21st marks the first day of Winter. We have already been dealing with the shorter time periods of daylight and now, the cold sets in.
The holidays are over and there is this period of “lull” between celebration, Spring and Summer warmth, and frigid temperatures with snow.
Although we live in New England and can expect this kind of weather, for many of us, this time of year still comes as a shock and delivers with it a punch of feelings we call the “winter blues.”
Though the winter blues can be difficult, they don’t particularly impact our ability to enjoy life. However, when this occurs in our work, personal relationships, or other areas of functioning, we refer to it as Seasonal Affective Disorder, or SAD.
Today we will talk about a few tips that can help you to beat SAD.
Seasonal Affective Disorder is a term used to describe the mental health state just below the category of Major Depression, that typically begins around daylight savings time, where our time of daylight is limited.
Some folks’ symptoms begin in Fall and persist throughout the Winter.
However, some folks do not feel the full effects of SAD until just after the holidays, when the distractions are limited, and the reality of the Winter season sets in.
It is especially common to experience these symptoms in New England, where we experience a major shift in seasons throughout the year.
Symptoms during this time of year can include:
Poor levels of energy,
Having difficulties with concentrating,
Thoughts of suicide/death,
Changes in appetite/weight, and
Loss of interest in things you typically enjoy.
Some may also experience irritability.
SAD usually subsides around Spring, or after longer days of light return.
If this sounds like you, the following can be of support in assisting you through working with the symptoms you are feeling.
Here are a few of my favorite tips for working through Seasonal Affective Disorder:
Light therapy: Having a reduction in light, does not bode well for our production of Serotonin, a “feel good” hormone. Investing in a light therapy machine, being sure to read directions on how to use it, and/or making it a point to get outside every day for at least 20 minutes to absorb the sunlight we have, can be beneficial.
Serotonin: Speaking of this hormone, there are natural ways to help produce more of it. Upping your intake of tryptophan (a building block for serotonin) from foods such as turkey, eggs, pineapples, plantains, tomatoes, nuts/seeds, dark chocolate, tofu, salmon, kiwi, and plums!
Sleep: Be sure to aim for about 7-8 hours of sleep per night. Some helpful tips include having a regular bed time, a “winding down” routine (no LED screens, spicy foods or caffeine 2-4 hours prior to bed; engaging in relaxation through meditation, light reading or a cup of decaffeinated tea), keep the TV and eating out of your bedroom, use lavender to help set a calming mood, take a warm shower/bath at least one hour prior to sleep.
Supplements: Check with your doctor first, but many of us in New England have deficiencies in melatonin production, Vitamin D, and Vitamin B-12, all of which can affect our mood and ability to function.
Therapy: Seek a licensed therapist for help navigating these or other symptoms you may be experiencing. It may be scary to do the work, but we will help you to build the skills and confidence to conquer your fears around this.
Self-care: I cannot stress this enough. Be sure to schedule at least 15 minutes of self-care time, just for you, each day to lower stress levels. This may include journaling, reaching out to a friend or group for support, taking a warm bath/shower, cooking/baking, listening to mood-boosting music or binaural beats, meditating, etc.
Movement: Exercise triggers tryptophan to be released.
It also can be a confidence booster! Aim for at least thirty minutes of movement for five days per week; however, if this seems difficult, start small, aim for 15 minutes today, and build up from there. Walking, biking, swimming, jogging, hiking, ice skating, skiing, and more can all be helpful (and, many of us EMDR therapists would highly recommend these activities for bilateral stimulation – more to come on this in the future from our founder, Erica Wilcox!)
Avoid alcohol and/or drug use. Alcohol and drugs impact our hormone production and inflammation in the body, thus causing issues with natural development and use of our hormones. Additionally, they do not really “solve” any problems we are having, and typically cause more distress or dysfunction in our lives.
Rule out possible underlying factors with a health care professional:
-Other Mental Health Issues: Major Depressive Disorder, Post-partum or Perinatal Depression, Bereavement/Grief, Anxiety Disorders, PTSD, etc.
-Hypothyroidism: Our thyroid is underproductive, resulting in fatigue, difficulty concentrating, possible depression symptoms, and more!
- Adrenal Fatigue: A result of prolonged stress (hello, 2020!) that results in brain fog, depressed mood, changes in energy levels, and sweet/salty cravings.
- Food Allergies: It is found that much of our serotonin is produced in our gut. An unhappy gut is often a product of inflammation, which can be increased when we are eating what we are allergic to!
Remember that Seasonal Affective Disorder is common. It impacts more than three million people per year just in the United States. You are not alone.
It is our hope that some of these tips will help you to normalize what you may be going through, try out new ways to cope, and reach out to a health care professional as needed.
If you are experiencing thoughts of suicide, contact 911, mobile crisis at 1-800-HOPE-135, or see your local health care professional immediately.
If you are interested in working with a therapist to treat your symptoms,
please reach out to us at your convenience at firstname.lastname@example.org or 860.266.6098.
We would be honored to work with you!