5 Tips for Managing Seasonal Affective Disorder

Alisa Anton/unsplash.com

Alisa Anton/unsplash.com

'Tis the season to be sad

While I don’t wish this upon you, Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD) is a thing around here. Especially with the end of daylight saving time, we’re feeling the effects of brighter mornings and less evening light. Given how much we love our Seattle summers, the shift into chilly, rainy weather, bare trees and gloomy skies is enough to make many of us want to crawl into bed and stay there.

If you are already struggling with depression, you might feel the effects of it more. If your mood is often weather-dependent or you’re a transplant from a sunnier climate, chances are it’ll affect you too. While winter solstice is less than seven weeks away, let’s help you figure out how to get through this long stretch of fall and winter months.

Before we talk about what to do, let’s address the symptoms of Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD).

SAD defined

SAD mirrors symptoms of Major Depressive Disorder, also commonly known as Depression. You might have SAD if you:

  • feel depressed
  • don’t want to do the things you used to enjoy
  • have low energy
  • have trouble sleeping, often times oversleeping
  • experience changes in your appetite, often times crave unhealthy comfort foods and experience subsequent weight gain
  • feel agitated or sluggish
  • have difficulty concentrating
  • feel hopeless, worthless or guilty
  • have frequent thoughts of death or suicide

If you have thoughts of wanting to hurt or kill yourself, you need to stop reading this and call the National Suicide Prevention Hotline at (800) 273­-TALK (8255). If you have a milder form of SAD but you’re feeling down, struggling to get out of bed, overeating, gaining weight and saying no to social engagements, then here are some recommendations for you.

5 ways to move through SAD

1. Light therapy

You know that it’s a common purchase when they sell it at Costco. Therapy lamps provide bright, artificial white light during months of diminished sunshine. Keep it in a well-trafficked area and follow instructions for use between 20-60 min. Depending on your circadian rhythm, you might find the light exposure helpful in the morning or the evening. Remember to choose a light box that emits 10,000 lux, which is equivalent to 20x that of usual indoor lighting. With lesser lux units, you might need to use the lamp for longer to get the same effect.

2. Physical activities

I don’t mean exercise. The gym is not for everybody. Rather, there are a lot of fall and winter activities that can get your heart pumping and your brain releasing happy hormones. It can be indoor climbing, yoga, laps in the pool, racquet ball, even housework. Outdoors you have a walk around your office or neighborhood, winter hikes, and snow sports.

Now I understand the fact that you feel SAD means you don’t want to move very much. However, if you wait until you want to do something before you do it, you might never do it! Instead, act the way you want to feel. That said…

3. Positive activities

What activities used to bring you alive? What did you use to enjoy? Or, what is something new you’d like to try? It can be a physical activity listed above or it can be art walks, concerts, a meetup, a good novel, a weekend away. You can be with strangers, close friends or be by yourself. Given the tendency to socially withdraw, I’d recommend doing some activities with others and developing accountability to increase follow-throughs. While there’s no guarantee that you’d feel better afterwards, it’d help you in the long run to stay active and engaged in life.

4. Medication

I don’t know how you feel about taking meds, but sometimes an anti-depressant is necessary to get you past this hump. It doesn’t mean you have to stay on this medication forever; only until you have more tools under your belt to be without it. Also, if you’re currently on an anti-depressant and you’re questioning whether it’s working properly, it’s probably time to visit your prescriber again. Remember that it can take up to 6-8 weeks for the medication’s benefits to kick in, while you might feel the side effects more immediately.

5. Take it in

While this is not the most exciting time of the year for you, can there be any beauty in taking in the vibrant colors of the leaves, the rustling of leaves against the wind, or the crunching of leaves under your feet? What about the beating of rain on pavement, the dancing flame from a crackling fireplace, and the warmth of peppermint tea against your lips?

This will pass

This season is here and it will pass. Since there’s no ushering it away, I hope there’s a part of you that can find it a friend, rather than a foe.

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Ada Pang is the proud owner of People Bloom Counseling, a Redmond psychotherapy practice in WA. She helps unhappy couples find safety and connection in their relationship. She also helps cancer thrivers and their caregivers integrate cancer into their life stories. This fall, she noticed the changing colors of the leaves more. Her favorite food group this season is all things squash and her favorite activity is baking.