Are You SAD? 3 Ways to Battle Seasonal Affective Disorder

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Do you feel depressed during the winter months?  Do you get the post-holiday blues that seem to hang on through February?  If so, you may suffer from SAD or Seasonal Affective Disorder.

What is SAD?

SAD is a mental illness that consists of clinical depression which manifests during the winter months when the daylight hours are shorter.  Researchers report that the decreased exposure to sunlight during the winter months could lead to an increase of melatonin and a decrease in serotonin, both of which are brain chemicals that need to be at appropriate levels to keep an individual’s mood healthy.

Couple that with colder temperatures, which often keeps people indoors more than usual and you have a recipe for fatigue, decreased activity, decreased motivation, sadness, increased appetite, sleep disturbances, and poor concentration.

3 Ways to Battle SAD

    1. Light Therapy

For many people, light therapy is an effective way to combat SAD.  Sitting in front of a specially designed light box for a brief period of time each day can affect the brain chemicals that affect your mood.  It is best to follow your doctor’s recommendations regarding light therapy, and special precautions need to be taken for those individuals with bipolar disorder since light therapy can induce mania.

     2.  Social Activity

Maintaining an active social calendar can help ward off SAD during the winter months.  It is easy to want to stay inside the home where it is safe and warm, but that leads to isolation which increases depression symptoms.  Make a plan to put regularly scheduled activities on your calendar and stick to them no matter how you feel.

Attend church once a week or more.  Plan a weekly lunch or dinner or coffee date with friends or family members.  Join a writers’ group or other hobbyists’ group that meets weekly or bi-weekly.  Go to weekly support groups.  Take a continuing education class at the local college.  Join a gym.  Take an exercise class or cooking class or photography workshop at the local community center; anything to put yourself in contact with other people with whom you can socialize and form bonds.

    3.  Professional Treatment

Some people need medication to help manage their SAD symptoms or need adjustments made to their current medications.  If you feel symptoms of SAD, which are listed below, for more than a week or two, contact your doctor for help.

Symptoms of SAD

  • Oversleeping
  • Appetite changes, especially a craving for foods high in carbohydrates
  • Weight gain
  • Tiredness or low energy
  • Feeling depressed most of the day, nearly every day
  • Losing interest in activities you once enjoyed
  • Feeling agitated
  • Having difficulty concentrating
  • Feeling hopeless, worthless or guilty
  • Having frequent thoughts of death or suicide

Don’t let SAD symptoms go on and on, thinking they will go away on their own.  SAD is a serious disorder that needs professional treatment.  Call your doctor for help.  And if you are currently having thoughts of suicide, call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-8255.

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How to Avoid Post Holiday Winter Blues

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After all of the fun and excitement of the holidays are behind us, how can we avoid the let down that comes so quickly into the new year?

Personally, I was feeling depressed one measley day after Christmas!  After a month of adventurous shopping to find just the right gifts to thrill of getting our first ever REAL Christmas tree, the holiday season seems like it is going to be hard for me to let go of this year.  It feels as if letting go of the season itself means letting go of the joy of the season as well.

I suffer from seasonal affective disorder (SAD), which is a mental illness where one’s mood state significantly changes from season to season.  In the winter months, my mood has a tendency towards depression.  There are ways, however, I can fight the depression that comes from both post holiday blues and SAD.

One thing I can do is keep some of my seasonal decorations up well into the cold months of February.  Maybe not Santa and his reindeer, but snowmen and snowflakes make for fun winter decor.

In an effort to extend the social benefits of holiday parties, I could make it a point to host small get-togethers once a month in January and February.  I must remember that social isolation can increase my depression.

I could send out Valentine’s and give small Valentine’s Day gifts (to select individuals), like I did with Christmas cards and gifts, to stay in a holiday-type spirit throughout winter.

Many people, myself included, tend to go to church only on special occasions like Christmas.  Continuing to attend service every Sunday can keep that feeling of spirituality and connectedness to something greater than myself alive. I plan to do this; I’ve already declared it as a new year resolution.

Some people volunteer or donate money or gifts around the holidays. We all know the recipients of our time, talents and treasures need them year-round, so why not continue giving well past the holiday season?  It will be good for them and us, too!

Finally, and specifically for those with SAD, light therapy can help chase depression away. I have used this in the past and it has been very beneficial for me.  Be sure to talk with your doctor before trying this, however, especially if you have bipolar, because it can trigger mania or mixed states if used improperly.

What are some other things you do or you can come up with to do to avoid those post holiday and winter blues?

Mental Illness and Seasons of Change

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It is the season of fall here in the northern hemisphere; a time where the temperatures cool down, the leaves change colors and begin to drop from the trees, the grass goes dormant, and the days grow shorter and shorter.  For a lot of people with mental illness, it is a time of depression.  The professionals call it “Seasonal Affective Disorder (or SAD.)”

I have SAD, although with the mood stabilizers I am currently on for my bipolar disorder, my seasonal depression is not as severe as it once was.  I used to use a light box to help combat my winter depression, but I haven’t needed it for years now.  And last winter, I didn’t experience a depressive episode at all, which was a miracle!  I made up for it this summer, but that is a different story.

While thinking about the changes that fall brings outside, I was also meditating on some changes I need to make within myself.  I thought letting go of behaviors and beliefs which are limiting my good physical and mental health was, in a way, symbolic of the way trees let go of their leaves.

I know I want to set healthier boundaries with some of the people in my life.  I tend to do too much for others while neglecting my own needs which leaves me mentally drained and physically ill.  The belief driving this behavior is that I must be perfect to gain other people’s approval and that I need other people’s approval to feel good about myself.  This belief causes me much anxiety, and when I fail, which I often do because no one is perfect, I feel depressed.

It is helpful for me to identify these types behaviors, and more importantly, the beliefs driving them, because they really do affect my mental health as much as the chemical imbalances in my brain do.

It is only by changing the conversation I have with myself in my head about what I believe that I am going to be able to successfully change my unhealthy behaviors.  I have to plant the seeds of new, healthier beliefs this fall and let old behaviors die off this winter which will hopefully give birth to greater peace of mind come spring (or earlier – but I’m doing a metaphor thing here.) 😉

What unhelpful beliefs can you let “fall” away, and what negative behaviors might die as a result?