Let’s talk about seasonal affective disorder — also known as SAD.
Let me start by saying that it’s totally possible to know the textbook symptoms of depression and not be able to recognize them in yourself. I find that a lot of my clients in the healthcare field in particular have a way of overlooking their own needs and struggles. And sometimes, if you have a milder case of SAD or any form of depression, the symptoms can be subtle.
Between the crushing tundra temperatures we’ve been having here in Rochester and the post-holiday slump many of us experience, now is as good a time as any to review some telltale signs of winter-onset SAD:
😰 Getting up in the morning is a huge struggle.
I mean, huge. Like you’re pressing snooze multiple times, your body feels heavy or achy, the idea of showering seems insurmountable…this goes beyond the usual few minutes it takes for any brain to wake up.
😰 You have strong food cravings, especially for high-carb foods.
Pasta, potatoes, bread, baked goods. Name a refined carb: you’re dreaming about it. Or resisting it at every turn. You may even find yourself gaining weight due to overeating or inactivity.
😰 You feel lethargic throughout the day, even if you’re getting 7-8 hours of sleep.
This could be because your sleep isn’t as restful as it could be. One theory around SAD is that winter’s decrease in sunlight disrupts the circadian rhythm for some people.
😰 Stuff that usually interests you has lost its luster.
Whatever you usually love — college basketball, knitting, baking, yoga — it feels…flat. Like you’ve been there, done that. Except there’s nothing else you want to do instead. You might feel bored or uninspired or just “blah.”
😰 You’re constantly fighting the urge to hibernate/withdraw from others.
It’s one thing to be an introvert, but it’s another thing when you find yourself making up excuses to avoid any and all social contact, even with people you usually enjoy being around.
If you’ve noticed any of the above, you may want to reach out to your PCP and touch base, especially if you have other symptoms of depression (feeling like a failure, low mood on more days than not for two weeks or more, increased irritability, thoughts of death or suicide). If your symptoms are mild, you might try a few things on your own to see if you can break out of the cycle:
- Get outside. Yes, even when it’s cold. Try a new activity like snowshoeing, or just bundle up and go for a walk with a travel mug of coffee in hand. If you wear the right clothing & layers, it’s possible to be outside even when it’s bitter cold. While your brain will fight you on this, it’s so good for you to get as much natural light and fresh air as possible throughout the cold months. Some people also find it helpful on a psychological level to “not let winter win.”
- Try a ‘happy light.’ There is good science behind the concept of special lights for use in treating SAD. Verilux and Phillips have different products at various price points — search Amazon. There are alarm clocks that expose you to light for a period of time before your alarm goes off in the morning, and these can help with getting up (they’re called “wake-up lights” or “sunrise alarm clocks.”) There are also lights that you can set up at your workstation or at home and sit by them while you work or read. The decrease in natural sunlight/daylight is thought to play a role in SAD, and happy lights let you artificially reintroduce your body and brain to healthy light waves.
- Establish a short morning routine that you look forward to. Even spending 10 minutes meditating, doing some sun salutations, or reading a favorite book might help ease the transition from sleep to awake and set the tone for the day you want to have. Have a nice glass of water to rehydrate yourself while you make your coffee. Listen to a podcast or some music. It really doesn’t matter what it is as long as it helps you beat the sludgy first-thing-in-the-morning blues.
If you want more support around SAD, please e-mail me at dobbinlmft at gmail dot com and we can set up a free phone consultation.