Seasonal Affective Disorder: Not Just the Winter Blues

Recognizing feelings and prioritizing self-care to get us through the dark times

Seasonal Affective Disorder: Not Just the Winter Blues

We've made it through Winter Solstice, but still have a way to go until warmer temperatures and long days are back. I'm heading into the Aussie and New Zealand summer this week to start my season, so I'm getting a bit of a head start.

With darker starts and ends to our active days, I thought it would be important to talk about Seasonal Affective Disorder or SAD. I've posted about this before on my Instagram, and it's worth discussing again here. If you’re anything like me, you know we’re at that time of year when seasonal depression begins to creep up on us, especially after the excitement of the holidays is over. I wanted to take a moment to bring awareness to SAD and to remind everyone that you’re never alone in this struggle!

Seasonal Affective Disorder is very common and is more than just the winter blues. I’ve been feeling a little angst recently and I think that’s because I am super sensitive to the change in seasons, temperature, and daylight. And since the passing of my grandparents, the holidays can also weigh heavy on me. This time of year makes me miss them even more.

I’ve become intentional about finding ways to tend to my mental, emotional, physical, and spiritual health during the winter and fall months. And I want to share some of my tips for identifying and dealing with Seasonal Affective Disorder.

What is Seasonal Affective Disorder or SAD?

As the name suggests, SAD is depression that is onset by a change in seasons. For most people affected, SAD symptoms begin in the fall, intensify in the winter, and go away during the spring or summer. This is known as winter-pattern SAD or winter depression. Some people, however, experience depressive episodes during the spring and summer months. This is called summer-patten SAD or summer depression and is much less common.

SAD is most common in the following groups of people:

· Women (particularly because we experience a lot of hormonal changes throughout our lifespan)

· People who live in places where it’s especially dreary this time of year (this can cause a vitamin D deficiency which impacts mood)

· People dealing with depression, anxiety, or other mood/mental disruptions.

Some common symptoms of SAD include:

· Sleeping more or less than usual

· Irritability and outbursts

· No desire to participate in usual activities or hobbies

· Not wanting to be around other people

· Feelings of sadness, hopelessness, or despair

· Excessive eating

· Excessive weight gain or loss

· Lack of energy and motivation

· Anxiety

If you’re experiencing these symptoms, don’t shrug them off as the winter blues. Take action.

8 Ways to Beat Seasonal Depression

Scientists and researchers don’t yet fully understand SAD. Nonetheless, treatments are available that can help many people with SAD.

Consider taking a vitamin D supplement. Because the lack of sunshine (one of our best natural sources of vitamin D) is one of the leading causes of seasonal depression, taking a vitamin D supplement may help to vastly improve symptoms. Just be sure to talk to your doctor first.

Get outside! Try some outdoor activities to soak in what little sunlight there is this time of year. Also, you’ll find that fresh air can work wonders too.

Open your windows. Whether you’re home or at the office, let as much daylight into your space as possible. If you have windows, let the light shine through.

Try phototherapy. This is one off my favorite hacks. Phototherapy, or light therapy, helps you bring more light into your space. Amazon sells lots of sun lamps and they come in all sorts of shapes and sizes. So, it’s easy to find one that’s perfect for your space. This is a great natural light replacement for the fall and winter months. Using the light for just 20 to 30 minutes a day has been shown to make a huge difference.

Talk therapy. Being able to verbalize our feelings out loud with another person can be so powerful – especially when that person is equipped to provide us with the tools to help us navigate this season. It’s okay to lean on others for support and if you’re able to do so, see a counselor or therapist for extra help if needed.

Move your body! Some people don’t like to exercise but find some movement that you do enjoy. Dancing, biking, skating, and yoga are all ways to get your body moving and release those your feel-good hormones like serotonin.

Spend time with family and friends. People experiencing SAD tend to withdraw from others. So be intentional about spending time with your loved ones. This doesn’t have to be high-energy social gatherings. Just be sure you’re connecting with someone during these dreary months. However, stick with folks you have healthy relationships with. Drama will just make your mood worse.

Eat a well-balanced diet. Nutrient-dense meals packed with vitamins and minerals are good for our mood and overall health. Try to avoid sugary and starchy foods as they can make you feel tired and heavy. During the summer, pay attention to how certain foods make you feel. That way, during colder months you’ll know the best way to fuel up.

Let’s prioritize taking care of ourselves throughout the year! Getting enough sleep, moving regularly, eating a well-balanced diet, and talking about our feelings should all become a part of our lifestyle and not just a practice we use in the fall and winter to combat SAD.

If you’re not doing these things already, there’s no better time than now to begin adding each step into your daily care routine.

With the right information and proper practices, we can all get through each season.

Learn more about Seasonal Affective Disorder from the National Institute of Mental Health and the Mayo Clinic.