Typically this time of year you may notice you feel more down than normal or like you are stuck in a funk. The holidays are over and the days are short, dark and cold. I call this my "funky season" because it is super important that I get adequate exposure to sunlight. If I don't, I can begin to feel off and not my normal chipper self :) In addition to feeling more down, you may notice a few other symptoms as well.
Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD) is a type of depression that occurs at a specific time of year, usually during the fall and winter months when there is less natural sunlight.
Here are some ways in which SAD can impact people:
Mood Changes: People with SAD often experience mood changes, such as persistent feelings of sadness, hopelessness, and irritability. These mood changes can interfere with daily functioning and relationships.
Low Energy: SAD can lead to a significant decrease in energy levels. Individuals may feel lethargic, fatigued, and have difficulty initiating or completing tasks.
Sleep Disturbances: Changes in the sleep patterns are common in individuals with SAD. This can include difficulty falling asleep, staying asleep, or oversleeping.
Appetite Changes: SAD may cause changes in appetite, leading to either weight loss or weight gain. Some individuals may experience increased cravings for carbohydrates.
Difficulty Concentrating: Cognitive functions, such as concentration and decision-making, may be impaired in individuals with SAD. This can impact performance at work or school.
Social Withdrawal: Individuals with SAD may withdraw from social activities and relationships, preferring to be alone. This can lead to feelings of isolation and exacerbate the depressive symptoms.
Loss of Interest: SAD can cause a loss of interest or pleasure in activities that were once enjoyed. Hobbies, social events, and other activities may no longer bring the same level of satisfaction.
Physical Symptoms: Some people with SAD may experience physical symptoms such as headaches, body aches, and stomach issues.
Now ... what can we do about it!?
Light therapy (exposure to a bright light that simulates natural sunlight), psychotherapy, and medication are common treatment options for individuals with Seasonal Affective Disorder.
The presence or absence of natural light will dictate and initiate biological functions within our bodies. Your circadian rhythm starts in the morning when light first enters your eyes (ideally from the sun, not your phone), signaling to your body that the day is beginning. When we are in the darker months, the sun does not rise until 07:30. This is why you are feeling tired and sluggish until mid-morning. Your body still thinks it’s night-time and is confused as to why you are awake.
So for starters, try and get into the sunlight as soon as possible after waking. Within 5-10 minutes is ideal. You can indirectly look at the morning sun for a few seconds when it is low on the horizon, in order to maximize the benefits of using natural light to start your circadian rhythm. Otherwise just refrain from wearing sunglasses during sunny mornings.
If you find you are having a hard time getting into the sunlight first thing in the morning or maybe you work the night shift, there are tools and resources out there to help you experience an improved mood and increased mental alertness. An ideal way to combat Seasonal Affective Disorder during those dark mornings is to use light therapy. You can check out a couple of my recommendations here.
More severe symptoms include consistently feeling depressed most of the day, feeling hopeless, and even thoughts of death or suicide. If you are having thoughts or feelings of suicide reach out to your mental health practitioner or call 1-800-273-TALK (8255) immediately.