Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD) is real and is more than just a case of the post-holiday or wintertime blues. In fact, SAD is a very common form of depression that affects more than 3 million people in the United States. Most people with this disorder experience the symptoms in the late fall and into the winter. These symptoms include feeling depressed most of the day, a loss of interest in activities, low energy, trouble sleeping, changes in weight or appetite, difficulty focusing, feeling agitated and/or feeling hopeless. Sometimes SAD symptoms start out mild and increase in intensity as the season progresses.
The causes of SAD are still being discovered but are thought to include changes in your biological clock due to the reduced amount of sunlight, a drop in your serotonin (brain chemical that affects mood) during the shorter days, and a change in your melatonin levels which can disrupt your mood and sleep. SAD is more common in females, in people ages 18-35, and in people with a family history of depression. It is also more common in people who live farther north or south of the equator, due to the decreased sunlight and colder weather of the winter, which typically means less outdoor activity. Therefore, SAD is much more likely in residents of Alaska than it is in residents of Florida.
It is normal for people to feel a post-holiday letdown or case of the blues, and it is normal for most people to feel down some days, particularly during this season of Covid, flu, RSV, and the common cold. But if you feel down for
several days at a time and you lack the motivation to do things that you normally enjoy, it may be time to schedule an appointment with your doctor. There are also things that you can do at home to reduce the impact of SAD. One of the most recommended treatments is light therapy. For this treatment, a person sits in front of a very bright light device every morning for about 30 minutes. These light devices help to compensate for the lack of natural sunlight and also filter out UV light. Although these can be purchased online, persons with SAD should consult with their doctor if they are taking medications, as some medications cause increased sensitivity to the light. People experiencing SAD should keep their house well-lit in general and try to sit near a bright window when possible. It is also important to eat a well-balanced diet and to exercise regularly. Although you may not feel like going out in the cold weather of winter, walking outside can be very beneficial to your physical and mental health, and help to combat “cabin fever.” Many people in European countries handle winter weather by bundling up and going out and enjoying themselves. The number of outdoor markets at Christmas and throughout the year are just one example of this. Relaxation techniques, such as yoga, listening to music, reading inspirational stories of faith and hope, or meditation can also be helpful.
Staying connected with others is important if you are experiencing SAD. This can best be done in person, but phone and e-mail will do as a substitute if in-person gathering is not feasible. It is important to have goals to help you stay motivated and lessen the effects of SAD. Winter is a good time for crafts, puzzles, and games (including online). Lastly, laughter really is good medicine. Laughter activates many areas of the brain and helps to produce positive emotions, enhancing your overall well-being. So, put some comedy into your life this winter with your favorite or a new sitcom, or a book of jokes or funny stories from your local library and let the laughter ring!
If you or someone you care about needs additional support to help cope with depression or loss this winter season, contact Timeless Connections at 717-319-7318 for a free 10 minute consultation or to schedule an appointment.