The winter months can be challenging for so many people. Especially considering that they are filled with approximately 14 major holidays. As the seasons change, daylight savings time ends, and the days become darker and shorter, our mood may begin to shift. It can feel really confusing as you notice that you are more fatigued, having a harder time getting out of bed, and potentially just more irritable! These (among other feelings) can be signs of seasonal affective disorder, also known as seasonal depression.
So, what is seasonal affective disorder and why does it happen?
Seasonal depression, or seasonal affective disorder, most consistently begins in the fall and lasts throughout the winter months. Many individuals may experience this in a consistent pattern each year. Some individuals experience SAD during the spring and summer months that resolves during the fall and winter, though this is less common. Signs of seasonal affective disorder can include any of the following:
Feeling down, depressed, or hopeless for most of the day, nearly every day
Lacking energy or feeling stagnant
Difficulty falling asleep, staying asleep, or sleeping too much
Trouble with concentration or thinking
Increased or decreased appetite
Having thoughts of death and dying
Though these are some of the most common symptoms, this list is not conclusive, and SAD looks different for each person. You are not alone in feeling this way, though your experience of SAD is just as unique as you are. There is not a known single cause for SAD, though many speculate that it could be caused by anything from lesser sunlight, lower levels of vitamin D, to difficulties with family around the holidays. Regardless of the cause, there is hope and help available. Knowing ahead of time that you may experience seasonal depression can help you prepare for the season ahead.
Some things that you can do to cope with your seasonal depression:
Be Gentle: The greatest thing that you can do for yourself is to approach things gently and with compassion towards yourself. How we speak to ourselves is crucial for our overall mental, physical, and emotional health.
Sleep: Having a predictable sleep schedule can help our bodies adjust to the changing seasons. Whether you have a hard time going to sleep at night, getting up in the morning, or a combination of both, finding a small part to target is a great first step (i.e. laying down 15 minutes earlier, turning screens off 20 minutes sooner, etc).
Movement: Gentle movement can create the chemicals in our brain that help improve our mood and overall feeling of balance. Whether you love going for a walk, getting on the yoga mat, or going to the gym, any kind of movement is beneficial for your body and mind. If you have not engaged in movement in a while, a gentle stretch of compassion in the morning can be a great gentle start.
Relational Support: This can look different depending on your needs and resources available. If you find that your seasonal depression is linked to difficulties with family or grief around the holidays, there may be support groups or therapy groups available in your area. A quick Google Search can provide you greater insight into what’s available to you.
Sun: If at all possible, find a time to get some sun. This may look like changing your lunch routine and sitting outside during lunch or near a window, or possibly sitting outside during the weekend with no other intention than to receive and to simply be.
Professional Help: If the resources are available to you, it can be helpful to schedule an appointment with a primary care provider for a check up, and/or locate a therapist to talk through what you are experiencing. Check below at the bottom of this page for a list of more accessible resources.
Remember that you do not have to begin all of these things at the same time. Start small and go slow with the intention of being mindful of how you feel as you implement any of these possibilities. Small changes can have a big impact and are the foundation that we can continue to build upon and grow with.