Dealing With: SAD (Seasonal Affective Disorder)
by Vickie Chin on Oct 14, 2020
It’s happening - the mornings are darker and the days are getting shorter. No matter how many times we live through the transition from Summer to Fall and Fall to Winter, it never seems to get any easier.
If this time of the year feels especially difficult for you, it could be that you suffer from Seasonal Affective Disorder aka SAD.
What is SAD?
Seasonal Affective Disorder aka SAD is a type of depression that seems to set in during the same time each year, typically during the transition from fall to winter. Although it’s most commonly experienced during the fall, some people can also experience it during the summer - but this is less common.
The most common and major symptom of SAD is a persistent feeling of sadness and despair that lasts for more than two weeks and interferes with a person’s work or school performance as well as, or their social relationships.
Other symptoms can include but are not limited to:
- Changes in weight and appetite
- Trouble sleeping
- Disinterest in activities or people that would normally bring joy and excitement
- Withdrawal from social settings and obligations
- Overwhelmingly negative feelings and emotions towards themselves
- Trouble concentrating
- Fatigue and irritability
- Crying easily
Why do people experience SAD?
There is a strong correlation between the changes in the amount of sunlight we see during the winter months and the triggering of SAD. As we see less sunlight during waking hours beginning in October, our biological clocks are negatively affected and the neurotransmitters that are responsible for releasing serotonin and dopamine are also disturbed.
What Can We Do?
Well for starters, some recommend getting rid of the tradition of changing our clocks twice a year and adopting a permanent daylight saving time. This change would result in less sunlight in the morning (and more in the evening) as opposed to the sun setting while many of us only just ending our work days or school days. More studies are indicating that there are serious health implications that come with ‘springing forward’ and ‘falling back’. The idea of making daylight saving time permanent is not new and has been explored over many years. While we hold our breath on this one, there are other things that you can do and ways that you can manage your own symptoms of SAD.
Here’s what we recommend:
Also referred to as phototherapy, light therapy can be practiced by sitting in front of a special light box upon waking up. These light boxes are meant to expose your body to bright lights firs thing in the morning and simulates outdoor natural light. Light therapy mimics natural outdoor light and sends signals to our bodies that it’s time to wake up, also causing positive changes in brain chemicals that are linked to mood. This is meant to offset the negative effects that fewer hours of daylight (especially in the morning) have on our internal clocks. Light boxes can be expensive so it’s best to speak with a doctor before making a purchase.
Also referred to as talk therapy - psychotherapy can help you identify and change those negative thoughts and emotions that are often associated with SAD. It can also be a way of learning healthier ways to cope with SAD and also learning how to manage the overwhelming stress you could be feeling.
Practicing mindfulness and embracing relaxation techniques are important all year round but they become especially important when trying to cope with SAD. Try committing to practicing yoga, breath work, medication or even music or art therapy.
Optimize Your Environment:
Open up those blinds and let in as much sunlight as possible. If you’re working from home, try and set up your work desk near a window to soak up that vitamin D.
Weather permitting - you could try getting outside. Taking a walk or simply sitting outside can be extremely beneficial to your mental health. Research has shown that this is especially effective if done within two hours of waking up.
Physical activity is good for the mind-body and soul - in moderation of course! Daily exercise has positive effects on both your body and your mind. However, if you’re someone who already spends a good amount of time exercising, it might be beneficial for you to even take a break!
Explore Herbal Supplements:
By now you’re familiar with adaptogens (we hope). If you’re new, adaptogens refer to a class/group of plants found in nature that contain medicinal properties that work to bring the body back to homeostasis. These medicinal properties can help the body adapt to stress and bring harmony and balance to the body as a whole. When taken routinely, adaptogens can help you resist and prevent common internal and external symptoms of stress. Which ones do we recommend for SAD? Our top two adaptogenic herbs for helping alleviate some of the stress that comes along with SAD are ashwagandha root powder and holy basil. You can read more about ashwagandha here and holy basil (aka the queen of the herbs) here!