Long nights, gloomy weather and chilly temperatures are upon us. At this time of year, it’s not unusual to feel less energetic or downright unmotivated. But for the estimated 10 million Americans who suffer from seasonal affective disorder, or SAD, the change in season can trigger a depression that runs deeper than a seasonal funk. While SAD can strike during the spring and summer, it most often occurs during fall and winter. Regardless of the season, SAD is not something that you need to “tough out.” Treatment is available. More Than Just the Blues SAD is a type of depression that should not be confused with the wintertime blues. The winter blues can leave you feeling down; SAD, on the other hand, can be debilitating. Symptoms of SAD to watch out for during fall and winter include:
Feeling depressed nearly every day Feeling hopeless Extreme fatigue, even after getting lots of sleep Overeating, especially high-carb treats and sweets Weight gain Difficulty concentrating Irritability For those who suffer from depression or anxiety, SAD can feel like a double whammy. This year, the coronavirus is only amplifying those symptoms. By limiting the activities and connections that we usually rely on to get through these dark months, COVID-19 has elevated feelings of isolation and anxiety. The coronavirus pandemic is also taking away our sense of control over our surroundings. But for those who are suffering from SAD, there are still plenty of ways to find respite.
Relief is Available One of the most common misconceptions about SAD is that nothing can be done. While it’s true that we can’t control the weather or make the days longer by sheer will, it is within our power to manage our symptoms. Here are nine steps you can take on your own to start feeling better: 1. Maintain (and Grow!) Your Social Connections. COVID-19 is limiting in-person gatherings, but there are still many ways to connect with family and friends. Pick up the phone, schedule a Zoom session, get together safely outside or send a note or greeting card. Research shows that when you send a letter of gratitude to someone, it elevates your mood, makes the recipient feel good and strengthens the relationship 2. Treat Yourself. Make time to do the things that bring you joy, whether it’s listening to music, baking or cooking, meditating, reading or even coloring. 3. Be Creative. Sometimes breaking out of tired routines can shift us to a more positive mindset. This is a great time to create new traditions, take up a hobby or revisit that list of things you’ve always wanted to do. Paint a picture, try your hand at knitting, build a birdhouse or take an online class on cake decorating—the possibilities are endless. 4. Exercise. This can be hard to do when you lack energy, but a little bit of activity every day can make a world of difference. If you do not feel safe going to a fitness club or studio right now, there are many online resources you can use for at-home workouts or yoga sessions. 5. Get Outside. When the sun is out and the temperatures are tolerable, give yourself permission to go for a walk, hike or run. Just being out in the sun can lift your mood, and the Vitamin D you gain from the sunlight is good for your health. 6. Use Mindfulness. Mindfulness is about being in the moment by using such tactics as visualization, positive affirmation and calming music. A search for mindfulness activities online will provide plenty of strategies you can use. 7. Watch What You Eat and Drink. Eat healthy foods, cut back on the carbs, drink plenty of fluids and abstain from alcohol and drugs. If you need help to get through the season without partaking in drugs and alcohol, a professional can help you. 8. Engage in Positive Psychology. We are wired to focus on our problems—it’s evolutionary. Positive psychology seeks to shift that mindset by focusing on activities and habits that make you happy. Searching for positive psychology online will reveal a trove of resources to help you. 9. Try Light Therapy. Light therapy involves sitting in front of a light therapy box that emits very bright light for 20 minutes or more a day. Improvements may occur within two weeks of treatment, but you need to stick with it for the whole season. When You Need More Help Sometimes taking steps on your own is not enough to alleviate SAD. That’s OK. It’s not a sign of weakness to seek help for SAD or any other mental health issue. The important thing to remember is that you don’t need to suffer.
If you continue to struggle, then reach out to your physician, a counselor, a social worker or a psychologist for help. It is their job to listen, support you and help you find the resources you need to cope.
If you don’t feel secure visiting a therapist in person during the pandemic, then consider tele-therapy. It is safe, effective and convenient. There are many tele-therapists at Compass Point who are accepting new patients now. Compass Point also offers an online scheduling system for new clients so that you can be matched with a best-fit clinician and schedule an appointment at your convenience.