Do you struggle with the “winter blues”?
As the days get shorter and colder, as many as 1/5th of Americans will experience what is known as the winter blues. Being stuck inside the house due to dreary, chilly, wet weather can contribute to feelings of frustration, boredom, and withdrawal from social activities. After all, what sounds better on a cold, rainy day than being snuggled up in comfy clothes for a Netflix binge? If this is occasional, it can be therapeutic to have some down time to relax. But stack a lot of dreary days together and you can quickly fall out of your normal healthy routines, causing some trouble for your mental and physical health.
As we roll into late autumn, symptoms of seasonal blues may increase. Many people may associate their mental symptoms with the holidays and associated pressures with travel, seeing long distance relatives, and the potential for additional strain on finances depending on how you may celebrate. While the winter blues may be just a bit of added stress combined with too little fresh air and sunshine, some people struggle with a bit more than just restlessness and dreary weather fatigue.
Professionals estimate that as many as 5-10% of Americans suffer from Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD), which is a step above the winter blues. This major depressive disorder tends to happen during the change of seasons, but more commonly as fall turns to winter, likely due to weather and lack of exposure to sunlight.
First, what is SAD?
Symptoms of Seasonal Affective Disorder, or SAD may include:
- Sadness, feeling depressed most of the day, almost every day.
- Carbohydrate cravings and weight gain.
- Extreme fatigue and lack of energy.
- Feelings of hopelessness or worthlessness.
- Trouble concentrating.
- Feeling irritated or agitated.
- Limbs (arms and legs) that feel heavy.
- Loss of interest in usually pleasurable activities, including withdrawing from social activities.
- Sleeping problems (usually oversleeping).
- Thoughts of death or suicide.
People who have summer SAD may also experience:
- Agitation and restlessness.
- Decreased appetite and weight loss.
- Episodes of violent behavior.
- Trouble sleeping (insomnia).
How is it treated?
Depending on the severity of your symptoms, you may want to try a combination of things known to help decrease the symptoms of SAD. Unless you know your symptoms to be very severe, you may want to start with the simplest treatments first, such as purposely exposing yourself to more sunlight and taking a vitamin D supplement. However, if those aren’t working for you, there are additional treatment options available that can help you feel more balanced quickly.
- Vitamin D: A vitamin D supplement may help improve your symptoms.
- Spending time outdoors: Getting more sunlight can help improve your symptoms. Try to get out during the day. Also, increase the amount of sunlight that enters your home or office.
- Light therapy: Bright light therapy, using a special lamp, can help treat SAD.
- Cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT): CBT is a type of talk therapy. Research has shown it effectively treats SAD, producing the longest-lasting effects of any treatment approach.
- Antidepressant medication: Sometimes, providers recommend medication for depression, either alone or with light therapy.
Ways to prevent SAD
There’s an old saying: “An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure.” While it may sound trite, it is absolutely true! The more attention you can put on cultivating balance mental, emotional, and physical health, the easier it is to get back into balance as well as potentially avoid some mental health disorders. Try to incorporate one new healthy habit each week, and make it a priority. You may think you don’t have time, but you really don’t have time to be unwell! Try these prevention suggestions
- Get out: Spend time outside every day, even if it’s cloudy. Daylight can help you feel better.
- Eat a well-balanced diet: Even though your body may crave starchy and sweet foods, stick to nutritious choices. A healthy diet with enough vitamins and minerals can give you the proper nutrition and energy you need.
- Exercise: Try to get 30 minutes of exercise at least three times a week. Exercise relieves stress and anxiety, which can play a role in your SAD symptoms.
- See friends: Stay involved with your social circle and regular activities. They can provide support during the winter months.
- Use your lightbox: Start using light therapy at the beginning of fall, before you feel SAD symptoms.
- Find help: Consider seeing a mental health professional who’s trained in CBT. This treatment can be very effective for seasonal affective disorder.
- Consider medications: Talk to your healthcare provider about taking an antidepressant. Medications can help if your symptoms are severe or if they continue after other treatments. In some cases, taking the medication before SAD begins can prevent episodes.
What else can help
If you are struggling with SAD, depression, anxiety, stress, and/or you struggle with addiction issues, now is the time to get connected with Centered! Seasonal Affective Disorder can often make addiction issues worse, so get help sooner rather than later! Centered Recovery provides meaningful addiction and mental health treatment in the metro Atlanta area, with in person and virtual options. Call today, start tomorrow! 800-556-2966