Have you noticed that your mood is negatively affected by the weather? Many refer to this as the “winter blues”, but it also has a more clinical term, Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD). SAD can develop from a reduced amount of sunlight present, reduced vitamin D levels, as well as an increase in social isolation due to weather conditions (Mayo Clinic, 2021). Individuals can also develop Seasonal Affective Disorder in the spring/summer months as SAD is not just limited to the colder seasons. As well, those who are more likely to develop SAD often experience other mental health disorders such as but not limited to, ADHD, major depression and anxiety disorders (NIMH, 2021).
Symptoms & Diagnosis
With fall/winter-prevalent SAD, symptoms must occur for consecutive winters and last for 4-5 months to be considered an official diagnosis. The symptoms include: oversleeping, overeating, gaining weight and social isolation (NIMH, 2021). Other common symptoms are:
Low mood and energy for most of the day
Loss of interest in hobbies or topics you once enjoyed
Feeling hopeless, worthless or guilty
Having thoughts of not wanting to live
Spring/summer-Prevalent SAD manifests in slightly different symptoms including but not limited to:
Trouble sleeping (insomnia)
A lack of appetite and weight loss
Agitation or anxiety
(Mayo Clinic, 2021) **This doesn’t serve as a diagnostic tool, please consult a health care professional if you think you have Seasonal Affective Disorder**
Ways to Help Treat Fall/Winter Prevalent Seasonal Affective Disorder
Light Therapy: you can purchase a light meant to mimic the effects of sunlight on your brain. Studies have shown the negative impact a lack of sunlight has on serotonin, which can impact our mood and energy levels (Kent et. al, 2009). Using a light therapy in the morning can help set your circadian rhythm and offset the lack of sunlight that's often experienced in the winter.
Psychotherapy: Different therapeutic modalities such as those offered at Blissful Balance Counselling can serve as an effective strategy to cope with depressive symptoms and intrusive thoughts associated with SAD. Take your time in finding the right therapeutic fit for you.
Vitamin D or Medications: Many people develop vitamin D deficiencies (especially in the winter) from the lack of sunlight. Research has shown vitamin D levels are associated with serotonin activity (serotonin is known as the "feel good hormone") (Mayo Clinic, 2021; NIMH, 2021). Incorporating a higher intake of foods such as salmon, eggs, tofu or fortified yogurt can also help increase vitamin D naturally. (Mayo Clinic, 2021; NIMH, 2021). Moreover, if you feel as though your depressive symptoms related to SAD may be best treated by medication, please do consult with your doctor.
Stay Connected: Extensive research has shown that meaningful connections improve mood and reduces both depressive and anxiety symptoms (Dewa et. al, 2020). Although the weather may dent your social plans, spending time with loved ones virtually can be a great alternative to staying connected.
Practice Hygge: According to healthassured.org, and all of Denmark, "hygge" (pronounced hoo-gah and translated to "coziness" in English,) means creating a warm and cozy atmosphere around you. You can accomplish hygge by lighting candles, turning on ambient lighting (avoiding more florescent lights), baking some yummy treats and overall relaxing and moving slowly throughout your day. Many animals either hibernate or move slowly during the winter months. We can take a page off of nature's book and set the intention of slowing down ourselves, and enjoying the cozy elements the colder months bring.
Most individuals lose access to their trusted coping tools in the colder months. Although we are unable to go on long walks outdoors, enjoy patio drinks with friends or soak in the warmth of the sun, there are alternative coping tools to practice in the fall and winter to improve our overall mood and well-being.