It’s that time of year again! Dropping temperatures, cozy sweaters, and enjoying the merriment that comes with the winter holiday season.
It’s also the time of year when our clocks change back to standard hours, and with that comes a decrease in daylight hours.
If you notice a change in mood and behavior during this time every year, you may have seasonal affective disorder. Read on to learn more about S.A.D – its symptoms, what causes it, and how you can find some relief.
Seasonal affective disorder – appropriately acronymed S.A.D – is a type of depression with a seasonal pattern. S.A.D typically occurs during the fall and winter months, though a small percentage of people experience it during the spring and summer.
Experts believe that a decrease in daylight hours and sunlight exposure causes seasonal affective disorder. It’s also more common in people who live farther away from the equator.
Since seasonal affective disorder is a type of depression, its symptoms are the same, but with a seasonal pattern. People with S.A.D may experience:
- Feeling sad and withdrawn all or most of the time
- Decreased ability to concentrate or focus
- A sense of hopelessness
- Lack of energy or interest in activities they used to enjoy
- Craving carbohydrates and sweets and overeating, which leads to weight gain
- Sleeping too much
- Thoughts of harming oneself or suicide*
If you have or suspect that you have seasonal affective disorder, it can feel like an uphill battle at times. But there are ways to manage it.
Since S.A.D is caused by a decrease in daylight, one of the best ways to treat it is to get more exposure to sunlight. Since this may be hard to do if you live in an area with limited daylight during the winter months, you might want to consider light therapy.
Light therapy – or phototherapy – mimics the effects of sunlight by emitting light through a box. Light therapy is thought to stimulate chemicals in the brain that regulate the sleep-wake cycle and improve mood.
To engage in light therapy, sit a few feet from the box for a few minutes at the beginning of your day. You may notice results within a few days to weeks.
It’s tempting to reach for that afternoon pick-me-up when that 3 pm slump hits. After all, turn on the TV or head to the store and you’re surrounded by images of cozy couples sipping lattes by a fireplace or coffee shops selling cute holiday cups. But try to resist the temptation. Caffeine disrupts sleep cycles and may increase insomnia, which could lead to overall decline in mood.
Holidays are a joyous time, but they also increase stress levels. Manage your stress through taking breaks, delegating tasks, and setting aside time for fun. Increased levels of stress are known to disrupt sleep patterns that may worsen symptoms of S.A.D.
Talk therapy and medications can both be helpful to relieve symptoms of seasonal affective disorder. Therapists can work with you and teach you techniques to use to challenge negative thought patterns and prevent your symptoms from worsening.
Consult with your healthcare provider to determine if antidepressant medication would be a good option for you.
When daylight hours decrease during the winter months, it disrupts our sleep/wake cycles.
For those who have S.A.D, melatonin levels – which help us sleep – may be off balance so that we’re tired during the day and restless at night. If you’re having trouble falling or staying asleep, melatonin supplements may help.
We hope some of these tips can help you identify and manage seasonal affective disorder. Note that most of these options are not limited to those with S.A.D – limiting caffeine, managing stress, and getting plenty of sleep are helpful for anyone experiencing a seasonal slump.
The tips in this article are not meant to provide medical advice. Please consult your healthcare provider to discuss your symptoms and seek support.
*If you or someone you know is experiencing thoughts of self-harm or suicide, please contact the Suicide and Crisis Hotline at 988.