Have you found yourself feeling increasingly down, irritable, anxious or sad in the last few weeks? Are you confused by these feelings because you love the holidays but just can’t seem to pull yourself out of your fall funk? You are not alone! Seasonal Affective Disorder, or S.A.D., is a form of depression that increases in the shift from the Summer sunshine to the cloudy and dark Winter months. Your experience of this shift is not imagined and the symptoms can be detrimental to your physical and mental health if not addressed.
During this time, several things are happing that may be disrupting your mood:
-The rate of serotonin transmission in your brain lowers releasing therefore naturally releasing fewer of those “feel good” chemicals.
-Circadian rhythms may become out of whack from the earlier onset of darkness each day and the brain releasing more melatonin as a result of the shorter, cloudier days.
-The colder, darker days often lead to us staying inside more often, almost as if in hibernation and therefore we reduce our social contact and exercise.
-We crave carb heavy foods, sweets, increased sleep and increased time inside which can wreak havoc on how we think and feel.
-The ongoing weather patterns of rain and darker days can lead to hopeless thoughts or negative self talk such as “I’ll never feel better” or “I cannot be happy”.
With all of this happening, the good news is there is a lot that you can do to offset the negative impacts of Seasonal Affective Disorder.
Socialize– Schedule time with friends and stick to the plans even if it is gross outside
Be active! Take a walk, take the stairs at work rather than the elevator, try a yoga video on YouTube, stretch in the morning before work…find creative ways to get your body moving
Light it up– Light therapy with a UV light is an evidence based method to counteract the symptoms of S.A.D. by providing a range of LUX light rays which boost the release of serotonin and can stimulate the receptors in our brain that are triggered by natural sunlight to improve mood.
Seek professional help– Individual or group therapy, especially using Cognitive Behavioral Therapy techniques can be beneficial in reducing the negative thinking patterns that come along with symptoms of Seasonal Affective Disorder. Learning to stop negative thinking patterns and rewrite thoughts into a positive frame can provide comfort and reassurance through depressive periods.
Be cozy– Choosing things that you enjoy and embracing these darker months as a time to be cozy may also be a key piece of successfully surviving S.A.D. The Danish have a term for this, they call it Hygge and focus on creating a warm atmosphere, lighting candles, eating delicious foods, wearing comfortable clothing and spending time with friends. They embrace their needs during this time rather than focusing on the negative aspects of these darker months.
Whichever tools you choose to use to reduce the symptoms that may pop up this time of year, know that you are not alone. 10-20% of depressive symptoms follow a seasonal pattern with a higher predominance in women and in areas of significant seasonal change such as the Midwest. Taking this mood shift seriously and taking steps, big or small, to take care of yourself will be worth it as your mood stabilizes and your S.A.D becomes more manageable.