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How To Deal With Seasonal Affective Disorder    

How To Deal With Seasonal Affective Disorder

Art by FISK

By Meadowlark Monaghan

It’s hard to think of an acronym that’s more on the money than the one for seasonal affective disorder: SAD. 

Sometimes referred to as “winter blues,” seasonal affective disorder, or SAD, is a mental health challenge that mimics depression and during the gloomier months between November and March. Its prevalence varies. How far one lives from the equator is a notable factor, but underreporting and a tendency to co-occur with other mental health issues make it challenging to pin down an exact number. That being said, an estimated 10-20% of recurrent depression cases follow a seasonal pattern and occur more commonly among women. 

The term “seasonal affective disorder” was coined in the 1980’s by psychiatrist Dr. Normal E. Rosenthal. SAD is a clinical explanation for the drop in energy and enthusiasm for life that can be the result of a lack of sunlight that occurs when clocks are set back one hour, starting in the fall. The symptoms of SAD can include depression, lack of interest in activities you once enjoyed, changes in eating or sleep patterns, feeling sluggish or agitated, low energy, difficulty concentrating, low motivation, and avoiding social situations. 

With SAD affecting 1 in 20 individuals before the pandemic, it’s safe to assume that those numbers will go up due to Covid restrictions, which has already led  to a rise in a number of different mental health issues. That’s why it is so important to be aware of seasonal affective disorder symptoms. Because if you notice it starting to come on, you can take steps to counteract it and stay ahead of the, ahem, SADness.

These 5 strategies can help you deal with seasonal affective disorder:

1. Make a game plan

Go into this winter season with hope, gratitude, and positivity. That may sound simplistic, but we make a decision about how we are going to approach each day, whether we are aware of it or not. And if we consciously decide to be optimistic, that will gradually become our default point of view. To help, try scheduling fun activities throughout the month that are things you can look forward to. Also, schedule exercise and stick to it! It’s much easier to accomplish something when it’s written down somewhere versus just an idea in your head. As you make your way through these appointments, remember to monitor your mood and energy levels. 

2. Bring the outdoors in

While getting outside is great, sometimes the weather makes that a challenge. However, there are still ways that you can enjoy nature while remaining indoors. Try adding brightness to your space by opening windows, adding plants, or putting up some holiday lights or lamps. Since a lack of natural sunlight is one of the big causes of SAD, try replicating the benefits of the sun through light therapy and vitamin D supplements. 

3. Lean into quarantine hobbies

Whether it’s doing puzzles, painting by numbers, knitting, reading, or cooking, hobbies are a great way to get in a flow state and boost your mood. Investing time in yourself to be creative (and away from screens) can help combat feelings of stress, anxiety, and depression. 

4. Maintain connection and routines

When there’s nowhere to go and nothing to do, it’s easy to get trapped in social withdrawal. That’s why it’s important to come up with ways to stay connected with other people. It may not look the same as it did before Covid, but Netflix parties, Zoom dates, and neighborhood walks with friends still allow for that all-important social connection to take place. And don’t leave them up to chance. Make them part of a routine and stick with them so you can enjoy the psychological value of following a schedule. 

5. Tap into your support system

If you need help, that is totally normal, and you should ask for it soon rather than later. It does not make you any “stronger” to “fight through it” alone. Your support system is there for a reason. Ask your friends and family for assistance. They can help you stay on top of your coping mechanisms. You can also broaden your support network by reaching out to new resources such as Ethel’s Club, Dive in Well, Inclusive Therapists, and more

Additional Resources

National Institute of Mental Health: Seasonal Affective Disorder

Psychology Today: Seasonal Affective Disorder 

New York Times: The Double Whammy of Seasonal Affective Disorder in a Season of Covid

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