Sun Down, Mood Down? How to Cope with Seasonal Affective Disorder

by | Nov 23, 2021

Does your mood change in the fall or winter months?
Did the time change affect your mood?
Do you long for a nice warm, sunny day?
Do you feel sad, lonely, and/or have a loss of energy and motivation only in certain months?

If you answered yes to any of these questions, then you may be experiencing Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD).  SAD is a type of depression that is related to changes in seasons, and begins and ends around the same time each year. SAD is most commonly experienced during the fall and winter months, however, it is not impossible to experience SAD in in the spring or early summer. While it is not uncommon to experience the “winter blues,” SAD goes beyond that and is a form of depression affecting your daily life.

Some symptoms you may experience if you have SAD are:

  • Sadness
  • Loneliness/ hopelessness
  • Loss of energy
  • Loss of motivation or interest
  • Changes in appetite
  • Sleep disturbances like excessive sleeping or insomnia
  • General disconnect from others or the world
  • Irritability or anxiety
  • Difficulty concentrating

What can cause SAD?

  1. Brain Chemical Imbalance: Serotonin is a chemical in your brain that is a neurotransmitter, this chemical plays a role in your mood. A drop in serotonin levels can trigger depression. Sunlight is a natural form of serotonin and levels can drop in people during the fall and winter months where there is less exposure to sunlight.
  2. Melatonin Boost: Melatonin is a hormone we produce that is released at night. It is associated with the cycle in charge of sleep/wake. Seasonal changes can cause disruptions in the balance of melatonin in one’s body and this can affect one’s sleep patterns and mood.
  3. Biological Clock Change: Our circadian rhythm (biological clock) involves mental, behavioral, and physical changes that the body goes through in a 24-hour period to help each part of the body function to the best of its ability in the time of day that it would be most needed. Since the circadian rhythm is affected by light and dark hours of the sun, this can have an effect on one’s biological clock with the reduction of sunlight in the fall and winter months.

Regardless of whether you have the “winter blues” or SAD, there are things you can do to help cope. Here are some strategies to help you cope with SAD:

Increase practicing positive self-talk and gratitude: When one is experiencing SAD, it can be hard to think positively. Practice writing out a list of things you are grateful for daily. Challenging negative thoughts and reframing them to positive ones can be very helpful in changing one’s outlook or attitude.

Reframing example:

    • Negative thought – “I can’t get out of bed today; I have no motivation.”
    • Reframes thought – “I am capable of getting out of bed and being productive today.”

Exercise: Exercise will help release natural endorphins in the body. Endorphins are a chemical produced in the body that’s main purpose is to reduce stress and pain. So, whether it means going for a run or sitting at home doing yoga the goal is to get your body moving!

Get a change in scenery: While it can be challenging to get oneself out of the house while they are experiencing SAD it is helpful to try and push oneself to attend social events or just get out of the house for a change in the environment! Social activities can help reduce the feelings of loneliness and change in the environment can promote more opportunities to keep your mind off your worry and reduce feelings of isolation.

Light Therapy: Light therapy which is also known as phototherapy, is used to help increase exposure to sunlight when there is not a natural source of sunlight you have access to. You sit near a lamp or box that emits an artificial bright light that is supposed to feel similar to sitting in the sun outside. You can buy light boxes and lamps online and use them at home in moments of wanting sunlight.

Melatonin gummies: These are vitamins that can be taken to help regulate your sleep if you are having difficulty falling asleep. If you take them 30 minutes to an hour before your desired sleep time they can assist in winding down the body and getting ready for a restful night. You can find melatonin gummies at a grocery store or convenience store.

Vitamin D supplements: Vitamin D helps with bone health but is also essential for proper brain functioning/development. This can cause effects in one’s mental health/mood. Getting enough vitamin D can help reduce depressive symptoms. You can find vitamin D supplements at a grocery store or convenience store.

Medication: SSRIs are a type of medication that can increase serotonin levels in one’s body. These can help balance the serotonin levels to help alleviate some of the symptoms that come along with SAD. You would have to speak to a psychiatrist or primary care doctor about medication options.

Remember, while some seasons may decrease your mood, you don’t have to sit through it alone and wait for sunnier days. If you are worried that you or your child is dealing with Seasonal Affective disorder, reach out to one of our therapists today. We are here to help!

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