So SAD: The Power of Seasonal Affective Disorder

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Winter has come!

House Stark was right!! (And if you don’t get that reference then we can’t be friends)

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Winter has come!

Now that the holidays are behind us and everyone is well into the detox, withdrawal and hangry phases of their new year’s resolutions, Seasonal Affective Disorder can really take its toll.

For many, the excitement and buildup from Halloween to Thanksgiving and on to Christmas & Hannukah can be energizing.

But for so many, the change in weather and the amount of daylight that we get during this season (thanks so much Ben Franklin!) can really wreak havoc on our emotional state, our outlook on life and our circadian rhythm.  Not to mention the letdown after all the holiday parties are done and the presents have all been unwrapped and the bills start to come due.

This post I’ll be unpacking Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD) and some tips for how to beat the winter blues.

Currently, most of the US is experiencing record low temps, snowfall and ice.  Me personally, I love the snow and ice.  My philosophy has long been that if it’s gonna be cold it should be snowing.  But I’ll admit that the lack of sunlight does get to me over time.

For a lot of people it really sets them back!

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For those that experience it, Seasonal Affective Disorder can have a severe impact

Officially, Seasonal Affective Disorder is not a separate diagnosis in the DSM 5.  However, it would be covered under the diagnosis of Major Depression and would follow the same criteria and symptomatology for diagnosis.

There are a number of risk factors that can contribute to a person experiencing SAD:

  • Females. SAD is diagnosed four times more often in women than men.
  • Living far from the equator. SAD is more frequent in people who live far north or south of the equator. For example, 1 percent of those who live in Florida and 9 percent of those who live in New England or Alaska suffer from SAD.
  • Family history. People with a family history of other types of depression are more likely to develop SAD than people who do not have a family history of depression.
  • Having depression or bipolar disorder. The symptoms of depression may worsen with the seasons if you have one of these conditions (but SAD is diagnosed only if seasonal depressions are the most common).
  • Younger Age. Younger adults have a higher risk of SAD than older adults. SAD has been reported even in children and teens.

So, what does it look and feel like?

  • Having low energy
  • Hypersomnia
  • Overeating
  • Weight gain
  • Craving for carbohydrates
  • Social withdrawal (feel like “hibernating”)

According to the National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH)

It should be noted that it is possible to experience Seasonal Affective Disorder during the Spring and Summer months as well; although, this is more rare.

So, what can you do?

For starters, don’t just sit there and take it on the chin!

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Don’t get beat on by SAD. Fight back!

Know yourself and be able to read the signs of what your body and emotions are telling you.

Have a plan! I’m a big proponent of “fail to plan, plan to fail”.  Taking a proactive approach towards overcoming SAD works best.  Yes, it takes energy and as a result of the SAD you may not have that in spades at this point in time.  But, sometimes you have to fake it till you make it in order to get the ball rolling your way sometimes.

Basic Care

For most, I recommend getting back to basics to regain control of their eating, sleeping and exercise.  Once you start putting intentional effort into establishing a sleep routine with good sleep hygiene, healthier eating habits that include more vegetables and fruits & fewer processed foods, and getting regular exercise for 20-30 minutes 3-5 times a week you’ll notice a marked difference.

Get Out There

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Exercising is a great way to help combat SAD

If weather and your health permit, you should be getting outside when possible to get whatever sunlight there is to be had, fresh air and get your endorphins going; but, even artificial light will help.  For those with children, you can see the physical and emotional toll that being cooped up can have.  That’s why God invented franchise indoor jungle and bouncing gyms like Go Bananas, Monkey Joe’s and SkyZone Trampoline Park.  I remember when my daughter was just a toddler.  We lived in an area that didn’t have any of those options close by and with the temperatures it was unsafe to take her out to the playground (despite many temper tantrums).  So what did I do? I took my kid to the nearest grocery store and let her run up and down the aisles like a mad woman.  Not exactly your traditional form of exercise; but, it worked at the time.

Lighten Up

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People are like flowers. We need sunlight!

For some they need 20-60 minutes in front of a light box.  I have not personally used any particular brand of lightbox, so I am not going to endorse one over another.  But, lightbox therapy has long been used in the treatment of SAD in order to supplement for the lack of natural sunlight people get.

Talk It Out

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Talking with a therapist can help you navigate SAD

Finding a competent therapist or social worker in your area to address the signs and symptoms of SAD can be very helpful.  Cognitive Behavioral Therapy is just one form of psychotherapy; however, it has shown to be very effective for helping to treat SAD (along with numerous other diagnoses).  Focusing on recognizing negative patterns in thoughts and moods and identifying positive behaviors to engage in (known as behavioral activation) are a great way to be proactive.

Happy Pills

Don’t let the heading fool you.  In no way do I believe medication is the first or only line of defense.  At the same time it can be a valuable tool that can work very well for some.  Especially, when coupled with some of the other methods mentioned above.  It’s important to note that anti-depressants can take some time before they start to reach their peak effectiveness, so the faster you identify the need and take the medication, the better.

The bottom line is do something!

If you hibernate in the hopes that it’ll clear up on it’s own when winter ends, you could wind up dealing with a full-blown case of major depression. And nobody wants that!

Next Post – Anxiety: The Not So Silent Killer

Disclaimer: The author of this post is not engaged in a therapeutic relationship with the reader and cannot give counseling advice without a confidential appointment. Readers should be sure to consult with a licensed therapist in their area or seek emergency medical attention if they are experiencing difficulty.
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15 thoughts on “So SAD: The Power of Seasonal Affective Disorder

  1. I’ve used a light box for years, and for me, it helps some. However, this past weekend I learned the hard way that it can trigger (hypo)mania in bipolar users. The Mayo Clinic website confirmed that this can happen. In my case, I think it was because I didn’t follow instructions and began using it for 1 hour rather than 30 minutes and working my way up. Thanks for these tips!

    Liked by 1 person

    • Thanks so much for sharing Barb! That’s a very good point about using the lightbox properly. It’s much like medication where you need to work your way up and watch for side effects. Have you used multiple kinds? Any that you would recommend to others?

      Liked by 1 person

      • I’ve only used one, made by Alaska Northern Lights. They have several models, but are rather expensive. However, they are having a sale this month, so it’s worth checking out. I have the NorthStar 10,000, which isn’t a desktop model. I set mine on my coffee table. It costs $399 bit is on sale for $299. Some insurance companies will cover it. Unfortunately, mine didn’t.

        Liked by 1 person

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