Are you SAD? What is seasonal affective disorder and how can you cope?
~Maggie Kelleher, LPCC~
For many people, the transition from summer to fall and then winter can be exciting, as they look forward to holidays and winter sports, like skiing. For others, the late fall and winter months can feel downright depressing. They may dread the cold, the dark, and the isolation they feel when everyone is stuck inside. With the recent time change, darkness will fall earlier, which can worsen things. How can we cope in healthy ways when the darkness outside begins to feel like it is also permeating the inside?
People used to talk about the “winter doldrums”. Now we know that there is a legitimate name and condition for this, often referred to as “seasonal depression” or “seasonal affective disorder”. Seasonal affective disorder, or SAD, is a type of depression that relates to changes in the seasons and typically begins and ends around the same time each year. For those who deal with depression in general, the winter season can also be a particularly difficult period. Doctors and psychiatrists may even preemptively increase medication dosages for patients to help combat the winter months. While medication may be helpful, there are a few things you can do regularly to help your body and your mind stay healthy all winter long.
First, make sure you do spend time outside when it is sunny, or at least light out. Vitamin D can help with mood regulation, fatigue, and other symptoms. You may even find it helpful to take a Vitamin D supplement; just be sure to talk to your doctor and do some research so you know the right kind and dosage. Consider taking walks on your lunch break at work, or maybe if you get home from work before darkness sets in. Your dog probably still wants to go outside, even when it is cold. Open your curtains if you have a window in your office, and at home. Letting in natural light will help curb feelings of sadness and depression.
Be careful not to isolate too much. It may be cold outside, but that does not mean you cannot enjoy the warm company of friends. If you live alone, be especially proactive in inviting friends over or asking if they would like to go to lunch. Call your family and friends and make time for others. Spending time alone can cause even greater feelings of hopelessness and despair. As always, getting enough sleep, eating a balanced diet, and exercising regularly will do wonderful things for your health. We function better and are more capable of recognizing negative thought patterns when we take care of our physical bodies. Our bodies are connected physically, emotionally, mentally, and spiritually, and we need to make sure we care for each of these separate parts. If you attend church, continue to do so, and maybe add in some extra Bible reading time, prayer time, or a faith-filled podcast to keep your soul in good shape.
Lastly, but most importantly, talk to others about how you are feeling. Tell your partner, a family member, or a close friend if you are really feeling down. Seek help if you have any thoughts of suicide or if it is getting harder for you to take care of regular tasks. Finding a counselor and working through the areas where you need help can be an excellent way to make sure you are staying on top of your depression and is another great opportunity to connect relationally.
Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD) is a real condition and not something to be treated lightly. Consider how you can fight back through the winter months, by taking good care of yourself. Keep in mind that the sun will always rise again in the morning, and God’s mercies are new every day. Many people care for you and are ready to help when necessary. As is so often the case with our problems, this is only a season, and it too shall pass.
The steadfast love of the Lord never ceases; his mercies never come to an end; they are new every morning; great is your faithfulness.
Our God is always with us. His faithfulness abounds in the midst of whatever this upcoming season has for you. When your heart needs a reset, may this worship set be a blessing to you.