Blog Author: Kearston Wishnefsky, Intern Counselor
Soon we'll be observing the end of Daylight Savings Time on Sunday 11/6/22, by changing our clocks an hour forward as we approach the beginning of Winter. The time change means adjusting to earlier nightfall, preparing for colder weather, and planning for more indoor activities. But for some, the changing time and seasons brings unexpected changes in our feelings and behaviors.
Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD), often referred to as seasonal depression, is a form of depression that comes and goes with the changing of the seasons. Although symptoms of SAD are more commonly associated with Fall/Winter as the weather gets cooler and the days get shorter, it's not uncommon for people to experience symptoms at the end of Winter as Spring approaches as well.
So, what does SAD look like? In essence, SAD is a series of symptoms typically associated with depression, but symptoms occur only for a short period of time, at about the same time each year during seasonal changes.
Commonly reported symptoms of SAD may include irritability/agitation, changes in appetite or sleep patterns, loss of energy or motivation, difficulty concentrating or making decisions, decreased sex drive, feelings of hopelessness or worthlessness, and loss of interest in activities or socializing.
How might these symptoms differ if SAD occurs during the Fall/Winter as opposed to the Spring/Summer? In the colder months, people with SAD often sleep more and eat more, and as a result gain weight. In contrast, SAD symptoms in the warmer months often include insomnia, reduced appetite with associated weight loss, as well as some symptoms of anxiety.
There are a few things you can do to be proactive against SAD:
- Spend at least 30 minutes a day outside in the fresh air before the sun sets—bonus points if you use that time to get some physical exercise in!
- Turn off tech at least 2 hours before bed—instead, choose an activity that doesn’t involve unnatural bright light, such as reading, a jigsaw puzzle, playing cards, or a board game
- Keep to a consistent bedtime and wake-up routine
- Eat a well-balanced diet and drink plenty of water
- Keep in touch with your loved ones regularly for social connection
If you still find yourself experiencing symptoms related to SAD, don’t hesitate to seek support. Reach out to your therapist for help. If you don’t have a therapist, your primary doctor can provide you with referrals, or you can search online for local mental health providers in your area. If you have an insurance plan, call the customer service number on the back of your insurance card, and ask for a list of available providers.
As with any depressive disorder, more severe symptoms may include suicidal thoughts. If you’re experiencing suicidal thoughts, you can access immediate support by contacting the Suicide & Crisis Lifeline: Dial or message 988 to talk or text, or go to https://988lifeline.org/ to chat live with someone who can help.