Coping with Seasonal Affective Disorder

Louis Laves-Webb

March 5, 2015

Does the changing of the seasons, especially in fall and winter, leave you feeling sad, fatigued, and hopeless? These are just a few common signs associated with Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD). If this sounds like you, know that you are not alone. Over 3 million people suffer from seasonal affective disorder each year (Note: this blog is not meant to be used as a diagnosis. If you have concerns about depression, talk to your physician).

Although there isn’t one definitive cause for SAD, there are several factors that experts say may play a role. For many, the decrease in sunlight alone can induce feelings of sadness or lethargy as it disrupts your body’s internal clock.

There are also a few chemical responses that can play a role in developing SAD. The reduced sunlight can cause your brain’s serotonin levels to drop, which can provoke feelings of depression. Similarly, the changing seasons can alter your body’s melatonin levels, affecting your sleep patterns and mood.

While people typically associate SAD with cold, dreary weather, there are many people who experience a decrease in happiness during the summer.

Typical symptoms of SAD include:

  • feeling sadder than normal, especially as season changes
  • feeling drained of energy
  • feeling hopeless or worthless
  • losing interest in activities once loved
  • changes in sleep (often, but not always, winter depression leads to oversleeping and summer depression leads to insomnia)
  • irritability
  • changes in appetite or weight

Of course, the positive thing about recognizing these symptoms in yourself is that you can now take steps to help you work through your feelings. Everyone copes differently, but the suggestions below are worth trying out to see how they can benefit you.

Ideas for Coping:

  • Get as much natural light as possible. Open the curtains, sit by the window, or even bundle up and go on a walk when it’s sunny out. Sunlight provides us with essential vitamin D, which supports your immune system and boosts energy. Vitamin D helps with SAD because illness and lethargy in dreary winter can spark feelings of sadness.
  • Continue engaging in activities you enjoy. When you’re feeling unhappy for a prolonged period of time, you may lose interest in your old hobbies. However difficult it may be, try to stay involved in them, even if it means finding something new you enjoy. Our hobbies keep us connected to our lives and can boost our mood. Set aside a bit of time each day/week for leisure.
  • Since so many people struggle with poor mood during the dark days of winter, several devices have been developed to provide light therapy. This includes portable light boxes, special light bulbs, and dawn simulators all designed to simulate sunlight to reduce fatigue and reset your body’s internal clock. It’s recommended that you speak with your physician before you purchase a light therapy device.
  • Continue taking care of your physical well-being. Eat a balanced diet, exercise regularly, and get adequate sleep each night. When you’re feeling healthy physically, it can be easier to feel better emotionally.

Lastly, if you notice that the feelings of sadness are cyclical and typically fade by the time the seasons change back, remind yourself that the way you’re feeling is only temporary. It will pass, so just continue to take care of yourself until then. If you still feel sad and hopeless for a long period of time, it is a good idea to speak with a professional counselor or therapist in Austin.

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