January 12, 2024
Mental Health | Wellness
It’s that time of year again…where the cold, cloudy weather day after day seems to go on forever. When it’s time to start the day, you realize you have no motivation to get out of your cozy, warm bed. And later, you’re convinced it’s time for bed, but then realize it’s only 4:30pm. As wonderful as this time of year can be, for many, it is a season for feeling down, depressed, and blue.
If you’re feeling this way, there’s a good chance you may be suffering from Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD). SAD shares many many similarities with a diagnosis of depression, but is seasonal dependent, striking people around the same time each year, late fall/winter months. While it’s uncommon, some people do experience SAD in the summer months (called summer pattern SAD). If you are someone who is impacted, you’re not alone, about 5% of people in the United States experience SAD.
Scientists believe that SAD is caused by biochemical imbalances in the brain prompted by shorter daylight hours and less sunlight in the winter months. Also, as seasons change, people experience a shift in their biological internal clocks (or circadian rhythm) that may cause them to be out of step with their daily schedule. Sunlight impacts our serotonin levels, which directly impacts our moods. (Can you start to see a pattern?) For most people, SAD lasts about 40% of the year! That is a large part of a year not feeling your best.
So what are the typical symptoms of SAD?
- Feeling sad or having a depressed mood.
- Loss of interest or pleasure in activities once enjoyed.
- Changes in appetite; usually eating more and craving carbohydrates or sugar.
- Change in sleep; usually sleeping more.
- Loss of energy or increased fatigue (despite increased sleep hours).
- Increase in purposeless physical activity (e.g., inability to sit still, pacing) or slowed movements or speech.
- Social withdrawal.
- Feeling worthless or guilty.
- Difficulty thinking, concentrating, or making decisions.
- Thoughts of death or suicide. Please call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 988.
The good news is there are a lot of options to support yourself when SAD occurs
- Just like depression, SAD can be treated with both therapy and medications to help reduce symptoms.
- Light therapy for as little as 30 minutes, can help encourage your brain to reduce the production of melatonin (hormone that makes you tired) and increase the production of serontin (hormone that affects your mood).
- Vitamin D supplementation can impact mood, anxiety, and overall health.
- Dawn simulators (devices that product light gradually like the sun) have shown to support people with SAD.
- Essential oils like lavender, bergamot, and lemon could lessen symptoms by influencing the areas of the brains that is responsible for controlling moods and body internal clock.
- It’s also important to stay consistent with a routine (same bedtimes, regular balanced meals, exercise/movement).
- Take a look at your workplace set up. Are there ways to include more light? Also don’t forget to get out and move!
- Reconstruct your thoughts about this time of year. How can you change your story around winter? Find ways you can appreciate the season. By identifying what you like, you can begin to create new pathways in the brain that are negative prone to positive.
- Use affirmations to stay in the present moment and get you on the path to a more positive mindset. The more you repeat them to yourself, the more you will believe it.
Need a recommendation for a dawn simulator or essential oil? Check out our Amazon Storefront.
It’s important to note that SAD is not the “winter blues”. If you suffer from SAD, you notice significant impairments on your daily life so its crucial to get treatment. If you need support, make sure to reach out to a professional to get the help you need.
To help prepare yourself for this season, take a few moments to journal and reflect:
- What am I most excited for in this upcoming season?
- Who am I grateful to have in my life?
- What aspects of myself do I love?
- If I begin to have one or more symptoms associated with SAD, what will be my action plan to get the treatment I need? Which tools listed above resonate most with me?
Need some more ideas? Check out this blog, where our team shares some of their tips for surviving the colder months.