Seasonal affective disorder (SAD) is a type of depression linked to specific times of the year and seasonal changes. For many, the occurrence of SAD may be synchronized with decreased sunlight and colder temperatures often associated with fall and winter. Even so, plenty of people living in sunny and warm climates as we have here in Florida still experience SAD and those that do might feel at a loss about what to do about it.
It is important to note that SAD is not a disorder relegated to colder seasons and people may experience SAD at any time of the year. The diagnostic factor most important to SAD is that it is a cyclical disorder based on the time of year, rather than what time of year it specifically arises during. Essentially, when our internal clocks are thrown off, we can experience a host of physiological and mental health symptoms. There are a variety of techniques that can help relieve or lessen the intensity of SAD symptoms as seen below.
Even here in Florida, the changing of the seasons comes with shorter daylight hours which can have an impact on energy and motivation levels. When we feel low energy and motivation to engage in healthy and adaptive behaviors and habits depression can easily creep up on us. One approach to treating this facet of SAD is introducing artificial sunlight into your routine. Note that all light is not created equal and finding products that specifically offer sun-like light is important. Using a lamp or switching out lightbulbs with those that offer this simulated sun may decrease some of the symptoms associated with SAD.
Stay On Top Of Your Sleep Routine
Depression nearly invariably impacts sleep and SAD is no different. The Mayo Clinic lists the following as potential causes of SAD disruptions to circadian rhythm, decreased serotonin, and disruptions to melatonin levels. While all three play a part in healthy sleep, the body's circadian rhythm and melatonin levels are essential parts of the sleep process. When we’re not on a regimented sleep schedule it becomes difficult for our body to give us what we need for a restful night’s sleep. Some important reminders for good sleep hygiene are: keep a firm bedtime, use your bed only for sleep and sex, avoid blue nights after the sun sets, and have the same process for going to sleep each night. By maintaining a solid sleep ritual our body has an easier time receiving signals that it is time for sleep and thus produces the chemicals and hormones we need to rest.
Maintain Healthy Habits
When any type of depression strikes often the first elements of our lives to go are the habits that keep us healthy and happy. Things like social interaction, physical activity, and even hygiene seem less important or just too much work. As previously stated depression seems to tear away the remnants of motivation and energy which once kept us thriving, thrusting us instead into a cycle of doing the bare minimum for our livelihoods. This struggle to engage in adaptive habits then perpetuates the cycle and worsens depression. As hard as it is, making sure to keep up with once-normal habits is essential to breaking out of SAD or any depressive disorder. This does not mean we have to start instantly meal prepping and hitting the gym. It does mean forcing ourselves to take a shower, put on real clothes, and try to engage in activities that once brought us joy. Once we restart these elements we’re often amazed at how much better we feel, and quickly.
Of course, the last and potentially most beneficial tip for managing SAD is to speak to a licensed mental health care provider to seek care specific to your experience. This may mean seeking medication assistance for some, but in most cases, SAD and other depressive disorders can respond quickly to effective talk therapy. If you or a loved one is struggling there are many awesome resources available that can help, and I am always happy to help point you in the right direction or provide my counseling services. Be well and be kind to yourself!