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Let's Talk About Seasonal Affective Disorder & How You Can Cope

Photo Credit: Agss via Pinterest

It seems as if another summer has flown right by us. With halloween and holiday products on display and the sun beginning to set earlier in the sky, fall is here and winter is just around the corner. Many of us may begin to notice changes in our mood around this time every year. If you are someone that experiences marked changes in their mood, particularly during the fall and winter months, you may experience Seasonal Affective Disorder.

Seasonal Affective Disorder or SAD is a type of disorder related to changes in the seasons. Symptoms usually begin and end around the same time every year, with onset in the fall and through the winter. Symptoms usually resolve in the spring and summertime. Research has illustrated that people who experience SAD may have low levels of serotonin in the brain, which is a hormone that regulates mood. It has also shown that sunlight helps to maintain levels of serotonin. With the sun setting earlier in they during the colder months, it can often result in decreased levels of serotonin.

Research has also suggested that people that experience SAD produce increased melatonin, which can increase sleepiness. Deficits in vitamin D can exacerbate symptoms of SAD. Since there is less daylight in the winter, it makes sense why symptoms typically onset during the fall and winter months. But what exactly does SAD look like?

  • Feeling sad or low for most of the day, nearly every day

  • Having low energy or fatigue

  • Changes in sleeping patterns

  • Loss of interest in activities you once enjoyed

  • Difficulty concentrating

  • Changes in apetite/weight

Winter Pattern SAD Specific symptoms:

  • Oversleeping (hypersomnia)

  • Overeating, particular cravings for carbohydrates

  • Social withdrawal

  • Weight gain

For those that experience SAD, it may feel complicated to feel low during a time that society and various industries deem to be cheerful. It may feel like a struggle to try and navigate through fall and winter. And for those that have challenged relationships with their families, it may feel even more difficult knowing that the holidays are right around the corner. If you are someone that may experience SAD, here are ways that you can cope.

1. Consult with your doctor to rule out any physical health problems

Sometimes physical health problems can mimic mental health challenges. It is always important to consult with your doctor and rule out any medical problems.

2. Psychotherapy

Certain times of the year can be especially triggering for us. It is ok to check in with a therapist when you need to.

3. Include more mood boosting activities into your self-care

If you know that certain times of the year can be triggering for you, it is important to be proactive about your self-care practices.

4. Light therapy

Light therapy aims to help people with SAD makeup for less natural sunshine during the fall and winter months. This should be done under medical supervision

5. Prioritize social activities with friends and loved ones

Social withdrawal can be a hallmark symptom of SAD. Even if it may feel difficult to do so, it is important to implement some sort of socialization on your calendar.

6. Create and maintain structure in your day

Having structure in our schedule can help us to maintain our mental health

7. Exercise regularly

I've mentioned this many times in my other blogs, but exercise can have profound benefits on our mood and mental health. If your schedule permits, try starting your day off with movement or some sort of exercise.

8. Spend time outside in the sun daily

Time outside is important in maintaining our mental health. Set up a chair or a blanket in your backyard or balcony. Go for a walk with your dog at a nearby park.

9. Make sure you are getting enough vitamin D

As mentioned earlier, our vitamin D levels can regulate our mood. Get bloodwork completed to check your vitamin D levels and explore supplements with your medical provider.

10. Journal to check in with your emotions

It does no one any good to suppress our emotions. Make sure you are regularly checking in with your feelings.

11. Be more compassionate with yourself during these months

There may be certain times where we will need to be extra compassionate and gentle with ourselves. If you experience SAD, be sure that you are taking extra care during the darker and colder months.

DISCLAIMER: The content of this blog does not substitute for mental health services. These are my personal thoughts gained from my experiences and education as a psychotherapist. If you are experiencing an emergency, please call 911. This blog is not a diagnostic tool or measure. For proper diagnosis, please consult with your doctor and a mental health professional.

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