Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD)
Winter can bring on feelings of sadness for several reasons: the end of baseball season, the end of Daylight Saving Time, the short days, the cold weather. All of those things are legitimate causes of sadness. As a rule, sadness and other emotions are just a normal part of the human experience.
But in some cases, increased sadness in the wintertime might indicate a type of depression known as seasonal affective disorder (“SAD”). A person struggling with seasonal affective disorder is dealing with more than the winter blues. SAD can lead to (or worsen) substance use issues, difficulties in relationships or at work, and more. As a result, it is important to recognize the difference between SAD and feeling sad—and then find ways to manage seasonal affective disorder so that it is less disruptive.
The Several Signs of Seasonal Affective Disorder
A range of symptoms can indicate the presence of seasonal affective disorder, and these can vary from person to person. That said, the primary indicators of SAD include:
- A persistent lack of energy
- A tendency to sleep far more than usual
- Ongoing difficulty concentrating on any given task
- A marked uptick in feelings of anxiety and/or hopelessness
The Suspected Sources of SAD
What causes these symptoms? Well, seasonal affective disorder seems to have a clear connection to the reduction in sunlight that most of us take in during the winter months. A lack of exposure to sunlight can lead to a reduction in our serotonin levels. And as well as to a shortage of Vitamin D, which the body usually receives from the sun’s rays.
At the same time, there may be a rise in our overall levels of melatonin, which can lead to an intense desire for sleep and a general feeling of having little to no energy. The impact of melatonin may be familiar if you have ever taken supplements to help you sleep. Melatonin can be helpful for insomnia, but as part of SAD, it can also make it extremely difficult to function effectively day to day.
The Secrets to Successfully Managing SAD
One simple way to manage SAD is to get more sunlight. Of course, this can seem challenging with the shorter days and colder temperatures. But even a short daily walk can help.
If you just can’t convince yourself to spend time outdoors in the winter, you might try letting more natural light into your home and workplace. Opening the curtains, shades, or blinds may seem like a small thing, but it can help minimize the severity of your SAD symptoms. Another popular option would be to purchase a light box that produces artificial sunlight. Used daily, these light boxes can make up for the loss of natural light during the darker months.
Finding sources of Vitamin D is also an important part of battling SAD. Your doctor may recommend supplements to see you through the winter. But you could also increase the amount of Vitamin D in your diet. Some Vitamin D-rich options include fish, pork, mushrooms, and hard boiled eggs as well as fortified yogurts, cereals, juices, and milk. Good nutrition is also an effective way to support your mental health, so a diet designed to increase your Vitamin D intake offers other benefits as well.
An antidepressant or therapy—or ideally both—can also help you overcome seasonal affective disorder. Medication can help support your mood while therapy can provide you with strategies and approaches to deal with the negative emotions.
As with any physical or mental health disorders, the temptation with SAD may be to use drugs or alcohol to “self-medicate” those negative emotions away. That, of course, is a bad idea, that can lead to the development of a substance use disorder—ultimately making things worse rather than better.
No Matter the Season, We Can Support Your Mental Health
At Johnstown Heights Behavioral Health, we have the expertise and experience necessary to help you address any number of mental health disorders—including seasonal affective disorder. And if SAD or another mental health issue has led you to a problem with drugs or alcohol, we can help with that as well.
We’re committed to personalized, compassionate, evidence-based care. We can shine a light on seasonal affective disorder and help you feel better.