When someone talks about enjoying a “nice day,” the safe assumption is that they are not referring to the dead of winter. The days are shorter and the weather practically dares you to go outside. Most people would not list winter as their favorite season. For some folks, however, it goes deeper than that. They suffer from Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD).
SAD is a form of depression that is triggered by changes in season. It can impact people in the summer but it is primarily a disorder of the dark, cold winter. It could relate to our body’s circadian rhythm and/or hormones. Whatever the cause, SAD should be taken seriously.
Common Symptoms of Seasonal Affective Disorder
The symptoms will mimic Major Depressive Disorder except that they relate specifically to a time of year. SAD can make you feel sad — every day for most of the day. Other common signs may include but not be limited to:
- A chronic sense of sadness, hopelessness, worthlessness, and guilt
- No longer wanting to partake in activities you once really enjoyed
- Loss of libido
- Appetite changes and possible weight gain
- Sleeping too much but still feeling fatigued and low energy
- Inability to concentrate, focus, or make decisions
- Thoughts of self-harm, death, dying, or suicide
It’s believed that about five percent of Americans struggle with SAD but that number could be as high as 20 percent. Again, with those numbers and those symptoms, SAD should be taken seriously.
How to Help Seasonal Depression
For starters, you will want to consciously make positive choices. Find activities that make you feel hopeful; choose options that will lead to laughter and smiles. For example:
- Keep a gratitude journal and refer to it often
- Seek out funny videos
- Take regular screen breaks (TV, phone, desktop, etc.)
- Get yourself a pen pal
- Make friends with your neighbors
- Help others (humans and non-humans in need)
A Few More Steps You Can Take to Address SAD
- Actively maintain social connections: Don’t postpone a phone call or visit. Go out of your way to connect with others beyond the realm of texts and social media.
- Basic self-care: You will want to stay physically active, maintain regular sleep patterns, and make healthy eating choices. This daily commitment will sustain you more than you may realize. Ideally, even if it’s cold, spend some time outside — especially if the sun is out. Combine your physical activity with your outdoor time.
- Be creative: Cultivate new hobbies and interests. As often as you can, find ways to express yourself creatively in the process. This could be music, art, writing, painting, or anything else that calls to you and lift your spirits.
- Set up routines: Add some structure to your life. You’ll get more done and this will make you feel more satisfied and optimistic.
- Develop relaxation techniques: What relaxes you? It could be a warm bath, a good book, a mellow song, etc. Make a list and be kind to yourself often! Perhaps most importantly, practice mindfulness. Stay as present as possible without dwelling on everything you hate about the winter.
Coping With Depression is Not a Solo Act
Depression of any kind is a diagnosable disorder. Therefore, it requires the support of a skilled professional. Meeting regularly with a therapist is a proven path toward managing Seasonal Affective Disorder. You will:
- Learn all about the condition
- Explore its underlying causes
- Identify triggers
- Develop new approaches for dealing with the winter