Colder Weather and Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD)
This time of year when the weather is cold, wet, and dreary, there are many days when we’d like to pull the covers back over our heads and stay in bed, rather than get out and face the day. We often loosely blame the winter months for our energy, leaving us tired, irritable, and moody. But did you know there is actually a very real, disabling form of depression that can take hold this time of year, called Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD)?
Seasonal Affective Disorder is a type of depression that follows the seasons. It has been linked to a biochemical imbalance in the brain prompted by shorter daylight hours and a lack of sunlight in winter. The experience of SAD can be more than a seasonal funk, but it is treatable. If you’re feeling down this winter don’t tough it out because it might lead to something more serious.
Seasonal Affective Disorder can significantly impair one’s quality of life, including overall health and mood. Symptoms usually begin in October or November and subside by March or April. December through February is often the toughest time, and holiday loneliness and stress can increase symptoms. Some symptoms of SAD are depression, irritability, inconsistent sleep schedule, increased appetite or weight gain, loss of energy, feeling unmotivated, and more. If these symptoms last for more than two weeks or your daily living is impacted, it might be time to look for treatment options.
Here are some ways to minimize your Seasonal Affective Disorder symptoms:
- Walks through nature. Exposure to the sun or other light. Try opening the blinds for natural light or going for a walk outdoors. Light therapy called Phototherapy can also help. This includes close exposure to a special fluorescent lamp.
- Seeking treatment. Individual counseling sessions can help individuals learn healthy ways to cope, reduce stress and recognize and change negative thoughts and behaviors.
- Talk to your doctor. Medication can be helpful for many different disorders and mental illnesses. If you experience symptoms, talk to your doctor about medications such as prescription antidepressants.
- Take care of yourself. Use methods such as exercising regularly, being social, sticking to a healthy diet, allowing yourself time for good sleep, and practicing stress management. Try to avoid turning to substances when dealing with your symptoms.
- Make a schedule. Taking the time to exercise in the winter might be difficult due to colder temperatures, so find the time to make a schedule to do the things you want to do. Schedule yourself rest, exercise, meals, and even hobbies to create a sense of accountability and normalcy.
There doesn’t have to be one solution to treating SAD, but our treatment options include you in the decision-making process. Take the time to figure out what works best for you this winter season, and know that you are not alone in your experience with Seasonal Affective Disorder.