Tips for Feeling S.A.D.

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SAD, seasonal affective disorder, depression, fall, autumn, winter, mood

It’s Autumn already!? It feels like this happens every year!

In honor of the Autumnal Equinox (also known as the beginning of Fall), I thought it might be helpful to look at S.A.D. (Seasonal Affective Disorder).

According to the CDC, SAD affects around 4%-7% of the population. It usually kicks into high gear around this time of year and has an off and on presence until the Springtime. Seasonal affective disorder gets it’s name from being prominent during a certain season (e.g fall/winter or spring/summer).

While different in many ways from major depression, SAD is nothing to scoff at. It can have devastating effects on a person’s mood, work/school performance, and personal relationships. Just because it is “seasonal” does not mean that it should not be taken seriously.

For clarity, below is an overview of the symptoms of SAD (taken from the Mayo Clinic):
Fall and winter SAD symptoms may include:

  • Irritability
  • Tiredness or low energy
  • Problems getting along with other people
  • Hypersensitivity to rejection
  • Heavy, “leaden” feeling in the arms or legs
  • Oversleeping
  • Appetite changes, especially a craving for foods high in carbohydrates
  • Weight gain

A quick note: Spring and summer SAD does exist and usually begins in mid-spring and lasts through the summer months. Some notable differences in spring/summer SAD include:

  • Trouble sleeping (insomnia)
  • Weight loss
  • Poor appetite

The good news is that there are some very practice ways to push back against SAD and limit how much it affects day to day living.

  • Get as much sunlight as possible – if sunlight is at a premium, keep reading!
  • Get as much fresh air as possible – go for a mid-afternoon walk, it will do wonders for your mood (and productivity)
  • Get the “right” amount of sleep – 7-8 hours is a good eye-ball figure for adults, teens will need a bit more
  • Make use of special lamps for light therapy (phototherapy) when sunshine is scarce
  • Stay connected with your support group (friends and family)
  • Eat well – it’s okay to splurge a little during the holidays, but an increased intake of sugar and carbs will  send your mood and sleep cycle on a roller coaster
  • Get some exercise – similar to taking a walk, but with a focus on getting your blood flowing (an added plus is the natural release of feel good chemicals after a good exercise!)
  • Counseling – a trained therapist can help you find emotional, cognitive, and behavioral coping skills and strategies to minimize the effects of SAD
  • Medications – while not right for everyone, if you have tried some of the other options and you have found no relief, do not hesitate to talked to a trained physician who has experience in treating SAD. There are some medications out there that might be helpful to you.

Here’s hoping for an enjoyable fall and winter season! Thanks for reading and be well!

*Even people who do not “have” SAD can experience the above symptoms. It’s call subsyndromal SAD. Either way, SAD can really throw a kink a person’s life and overall sense of wellbeing and it’s worth taking the steps to address it before it become overwhelming. 

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