The winter blues are coming sooner than you think. Days are growing shorter and the weather is becoming colder. Even feelings of sadness, doubt, and hopelessness may begin to appear in the coming weeks and months. Not everyone knows that there is a real, scientific name for this condition that are far more common than you might think. However, it is called Seasonal Affective Disorder, sometimes known as SAD.
Seasonal Affective Disorder is a type of depression related to changes in the seasons and it affects around 5% of adults in the United States for about 40% of the year. According to the Mayo Clinic, it is fairly predictable and occurs around the same time each year for individuals around the world, particularly in the late fall and winter months. Many symptoms are similar to major depression or bipolar disorder. Due to the similarities, people tend to confuse one of these two illnesses with seasonal affective disorder and often dismiss it completely.
If you suffer from Seasonal Affective Disorder, know that you are not alone. This time of year, as fall turns to winter and clocks are set back, symptoms start to rapidly appear. If you feel you might have Seasonal Affective Disorder but are unsure, hopefully by the end of this story, you will be able to connect some dots in your own life. If you want to help someone in your life who suffers from this disorder, keep listening for some insight about best practices to manage symptoms. Let’s start with the most common symptoms, specifically present in fall and winter.
According to the American Psychiatric Association, the most common symptoms for Seasonal Affective Disorder are:
- Appetite changes, especially craving high-carb foods
- Weight gain
- Tiredness and low energy
If you are feeling this way day after day, don’t worry because there is good news ahead. Kristin Wong is the owner of and a counselor at Emmaus counseling in Ann Arbor, Michigan. Wong has suggestions about how someone with Seasonal Affective Disorder can fight back again feelings of hopelessness, tiredness, and low energy that come with the change of the seasons. According to Wong, the most common treatment that is used today is light therapy. However, antidepressants and talk therapy can also be used.
If you don’t know what light therapy is, it involves sitting in front of a lightbox that emits a bright light that mimics outdoor, natural light for at least 20 minutes or more a day. Often, people participate in light therapy each morning and continue for the entirety of winter. According to the Mayo Clinic, this type of therapy is beneficial because it has proven positive effects on mood and energy levels. Wong suggests other simple ways to boost mood and combat the symptoms of seasonal affective disorder, including regular exercise, eating healthy, getting enough sleep each night, and staying connected with friends and family, both virtually and in-person. It can become tempting to curl up in your house and step away from social engagements. However, as humans, we need social interaction to keep us happy and healthy.
If you struggle with Seasonal Affective Disorder, this coming winter may be especially challenging for you. You have been social distancing and spending less time in social settings. Additionally, you have spent more time in your home and less in the outside world. More people have been struggling with mental health issues this year than ever before due to stress about the pandemic, forced quarantining, and social and political unrest. This struggle will only continue through the winter months and the beginning of 2021.
During the fall and winter seasons, pay attention to both your mental health, as well as the mental health of the people around you. You may not have control over what’s happening in the world. However, you can control how you treat yourself and others. How will you choose to show understanding and care to the people who struggle with Seasonal Affective Disorder? If you personally struggle with your mental health or Seasonal Affective Disorder, what will you do to show yourself care when you need it the most?