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What is S.A.D. and How Do You Manage It?

My mood is drastically affected by the weather. Some of my happiest days are when it is bright and beautiful, and I can feel the warm sun on my face. Then there are dreary, cold days when my mood seems to be at its lowest. And the fact that I have been living in Michigan my whole life where nearly half of the days are the latter does not necessarily help. This is especially true during this time of year when the winter holidays are long gone, and spring feels too far away. So, I wanted to talk about Seasonal Affective Disorder (or SAD for short) and how to deal with those down, dull days that seem to appear most often during this time of the year.

Seasonal Affective Disorder is primarily described as a type of depression that is related to the changing of the seasons. Most people begin to experience symptoms starting in the fall and winter months; however, it is possible for those to pop up in the spring or summer months as well. These symptoms may start out mild as the season begins and may become more severe as the weather progresses.

As with most mental health illnesses, the specific cause remains to be unknown and could be due to numerous factors, including yours and your family’s health history amongst other considerations. Your biological clock (or circadian rhythm) may play a role in regard to reduced sunlight during the winter months, which may disrupt your biological clock and result in depression symptoms. Serotonin levels may also drop during these seasons when you are not able to experience some of your favorite activities due to uncooperative weather. This may be true even outside of a pandemic when you are able and encouraged to get out and see your friends and family. This means that our current situation as a country makes this even more prevalent. Lastly, your melatonin levels may drop, which plays a significant role in sleep patterns and mood.

We may not yet know a definitive reason behind the cause of SAD, but we do know what it generally looks like:

- Feeling depressed most of the day, nearly every day

- Losing interest in activities that you once enjoyed

- Having low energy

- Having problems getting to sleep and/or staying asleep or sleeping more than normal

- Experiencing changes in your appetite or weight

- Feeling sluggish and/or agitated

- Having difficulty concentrating

- Feeling hopeless, worthless, and/or guilty

- Having frequent thoughts of death or suicide

It is relatively normal to feel down every once in a while; however, if these symptoms go left untreated, you may experience more severe problems including:

- Social withdrawal

- School or work problems

- Substance abuse

- Additional mental health illnesses or symptoms

- Suicidal thoughts or behavior

In hopes of limiting the severity of these symptoms, there are numerous things that you can do.

- Purchase and use a light therapy lamp

I just recently became familiar with these neat little tools, and I am so intrigued! Starting with a brief online search, there are lamps that you can purchase for around $50 (or more depending on what you are looking for), and they can provide you with faux sunlight during times of the year where the sun is being stubborn. There are also lightbulbs that are available that you can use in your home or office.

- Utilize relaxation techniques, including yoga, guided meditation, and art therapy

I have been practicing yoga and meditation techniques for the last 8 years, and I absolutely love it. I will not deny that there has been times that deep breathing has saved me from saying something that I likely would have regretted later. These techniques also have the ability to reduce stress, lower blood pressure, and assist in falling asleep.

- Make your environment sunnier and brighter

You can do this by opening up the curtains in your home or workplace, even on days that are not very bright. Overcast sunshine is better than non-existent sunshine! You can also brighten up a room by adding items that you enjoy or make you smile and painting the walls brighter, lighter colors.

- Get outside when the weather is appropriate to do so

Most of the time during the winter months in Michigan it is cold outside. Just last week my temperature gauge read -8, not the most ideal temperature for spending time outside! But there are those sparse days where the sun is shining, almost as if it’s calling you to be outside. Listen to your body because it is craving that sunshine, especially during these seasons.

- Exercise regularly to increase “feel good” hormones

I would like to clarify that “exercise” does not mean that you need to run 10 miles every day or go to 3 Cross Fit sessions. Not that those things are inherently bad by any means, but exercise will look different for every person. Maybe for you it is a 10 minute walk around the block or lifting weights, or cycling. Whatever it is that you enjoy, just do it! (Not sponsored by Nike).

- Socialize with friends and family

As mentioned above, whilst during a pandemic, socializing with friends and family may be difficult or look different right now, but that does not mean that it is not just as important (maybe even more so!) than before. Call, text, email, video chat or whatever medium you would like to use, again as long as you do it.

- Get an appropriate amount of sleep, usually between 7-9 hours nightly

Appropriate amounts of sleep will also likely vary from person to person, but a typical 7-9 hours usually works well for most individuals. Make your best attempts to fall asleep and wake up around the same times every day (yes even on weekends) to get your biological clock back on track.

- Practice healthy eating habits

You are what you eat. If you usually consume an abundance of sugar, sodium, and trans fats you will likely not feel the best that you could if you were trading some of those for fruits or vegetables. I’m not asking you to become vegan overnight or anything, but just consider making some small changes to your diet and avoid emotional or stress eating as much as possible.

- Talk with a licensed mental health professional

Making an appointment with a licensed mental health professional does not make you crazy or an inherent failure. It means that you care enough about yourself to seek some help and an outside, unbiased opinion. You wouldn’t think twice about making an appointment with your medical provider if your leg was broken, right? So let’s change that stigma for mental health and make an appointment today.

After you have exhausted all of these options and your Seasonal Affective Disorder still appears to be lingering, it may be best to talk with a psychiatric professional regarding different medications and/or supplements to decrease symptoms, in addition to the previous listed treatments.

I would also like to take this time to note that suicide is never the best option. This world is better with you in it, and there is always someone willing and ready to talk, 24 hours a day, 7 days a week. If you are having suicidal thoughts or have a plan, please call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 800-273-8255.

Comment down below or on our social media on Facebook, Instagram, or Twitter if you have any additional insight into Seasonal Affective Disorder or if there are any other helpful treatments that you have used!

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