Fall has finally arrived (despite the 80 degree weather today). Orchard trees are heavy with ripe apples. Pumpkins and Halloween candy already line the shelves. And Starbucks has a line a mile long for a new pumpkin-spice drink.
Oh yeah, and seasonal affective disorder (SAD) is kicking in.
In short, SAD is a type of depression that’s brought on by changes in the seasons. While most people are afflicted during the fall/winter months, there are those, like a few close friends of mine, who struggle with spring/summer SAD. Both are forms of depression, but while winter depression leads to oversleeping, craving carbs, weigh gain, and low energy, summer depression deals more with insomnia, weight loss, and anxiety. Of course, each person is different, and your symptoms may vary.
I can concur, though, that when winter depression starts to set in, I generally want to hibernate. The dream of wrapping up in a warm blanket with hot cocoa and carbs and nesting on the couch with pumpkin bread sometimes gets me through the day, even if it does make me less productive later.
I know there are people out there who don’t believe that SAD is a thing. How can the weather have such a change on people’s moods? Well, if weather changes can lead to someone having migraines, why is it so unbelievable that they can cause depression as well? For winter depression, the longer nights and lack of light tends to set off people’s circadian rhythms in a negative way. I already have trouble sleeping, and winter depression makes it harder for me to get up in the morning to face the next day. I find myself wandering around my house at night, unable to get myself to sleep because I don’t want to face the morning, and then I’m even more exhausted come sunrise, which doesn’t prep me for a good day at work.
The low energy, trouble sleeping, and difficulty concentrating can have a very negative impact on my writing as well. When my brain is snarling with negative thoughts (guilt, worthlessness, hopelessness), sometimes the last thing I want to do is put my fingers to the keyboard. NaNoWriMo can pull me out of that mood for about a month, but then it’s back to me curling up on the couch, not wanting to move or even look at my screen. I’m probably the least productive during my winter months simply because I just don’t have the energy to come up with ideas.
It’s a wonder I’m actually able to launch books in December.
SAD isn’t something to take lightly. When things get bad, it’s not unusual for people to have thoughts of death or suicide. That likely is what pushed me towards my near attempt in February. The depression was just too much to handle, and I slipped over the edge.
So what can you do to combat it? Treatments can include light therapy, medications, or psychotherapy. I started light therapy last winter, and I could tell it made a difference. I set up special light boxes and just sit in their glow for 30-45 minutes everyday. The light is supposed to simulate sunlight, which can help with my circadian rhythm and mood. I’m actually going to start using the boxes again starting today before it gets too dark outside, just so I can start to feel their affects.
I’ve been told, too, that an increase in vitamin D can also help with your mood during winter depression. However, you want to be sure you talk to your doctor about that before you take pills, to make sure you’re not getting too much vitamin D.
Other things to consider if you’re struggling with SAD:
- Be kind to yourself. You’re not alone in this struggle, so don’t beat yourself up for feeling this way.
- Create a safe, comfortable environment for yourself. If it means setting up blankets and pillows for you to snuggle in after work, then do that. At least you’ll know it’s waiting for you.
- Reach out to friends or family if you’re struggling and maybe go spend time with them to get your mind off of the depression.
- Hot baths or showers, massages, or other things that bring physical comfort.
- Light-hearted movies/shows. My depression often gets worse if I watch sad stuff, so try to have back-up things you can watch to make you feel a little better.
- Put up Christmas lights. I know this sounds silly, but I’m always a little happier when I have bright Christmas lights up during the dark months.
- Keep a journal and write out your emotions. Writing can be very cathartic especially when you don’t understand why you’re feeling so bad.
- Have the suicide hotline available: 1-800-273-8255 If you feel low enough that you’re afraid you might want to take your life, please call the suicide hotline, visit your local hospital, or reach out to someone you trust. It will get better.
Depression can feel like a dark tunnel without a light at the end, but in the case of SAD, it doesn’t last forever. The changing seasons can bring you relief after a long, difficult episode. There’s no shame in admitting that you’re feeling this way. Like I said, this affects many people, and you’re not alone at all in your struggles. Just know what steps to take to help you safely through it.
Do you struggle with SAD? What kinds of things do you do to help yourself? List them below!