Seasonal affective disorder (SAD) is a type of depression that’s related to changes in seasons — SAD begins and ends at about the same times every year. If you’re like most people with SAD, your symptoms start in the fall and continue into the winter months, sapping your energy and making you feel moody. Less often, SAD causes depression in the spring or early summer.
Treatment for SAD may include light therapy (phototherapy), medications and psychotherapy.
Don’t brush off that yearly feeling as simply a case of the “winter blues” or a seasonal funk that you have to tough out on your own. Take steps to keep your mood and motivation steady throughout the year.
Signs and symptoms of SAD may include:
- Feeling depressed most of the day, nearly every day
- Losing interest in activities you once enjoyed
- Having low energy
- Having problems with sleeping
- Experiencing changes in your appetite or weight
- Feeling sluggish or agitated
- Having difficulty concentrating
- Feeling hopeless, worthless or guilty
- Having frequent thoughts of death or suicide
Fall and winter SAD
Symptoms specific to winter-onset SAD, sometimes called winter depression, may include:
- Appetite changes, especially a craving for foods high in carbohydrates
- Weight gain
- Tiredness or low energy
Spring and summer SAD
Symptoms specific to summer-onset seasonal affective disorder, sometimes called summer depression, may include:
- Trouble sleeping (insomnia)
- Poor appetite
- Weight loss
- Agitation or anxiety
Seasonal changes in bipolar disorder
In some people with bipolar disorder, spring and summer can bring on symptoms of mania or a less intense form of mania (hypomania), and fall and winter can be a time of depression.
When to see a doctor
It’s normal to have some days when you feel down. But if you feel down for days at a time and you can’t get motivated to do activities you normally enjoy, see your doctor. This is especially important if your sleep patterns and appetite have changed, you turn to alcohol for comfort or relaxation, or you feel hopeless or think about suicide.
What to do to help Seasonal Depression:
1. 10-minute daily nature sessions
Forest Bathing is a form of eco-therapy that means mindfully spending time in nature. I make it part of my wellness routine year-round, and winter is no exception.
Studies have shown even short walks in nature increase mood, among other benefits for the body and mind. I’ve made it a goal to get outside every day, even if it’s below freezing or there are flurries in the forecast.
If I’m not able to make it to an idyllic pine forest, even a quick walk around my neighbourhood or to the nearest park allows me to soak up the mental health benefits of nature.
2. Cold-weather accessories that keep me cozy
There are few things that will put me in a bad mood more quickly than feeling cold. Since I won’t be seeing an 80-degree day for several months, I know that to feel comfortable, I have to pile on the layers.
When I’m dressed for the elements, I’m more likely to go for my daily nature walks and stay social. So, I finally sprung for a pair of Smartwool gloves. At $25 they’re more expensive than other gloves. Although, I’m not sure if I can put a price tag on having warm hands all winter long.
Feeling good indoors is important too. I have a huge collection of blankets, fuzzy socks in every colour, and snuggly necessities like a lavender-filled owl that I warm up in the microwave. All these cold-weather comforts help me focus on the charm of winter, instead of the cold weather and short days it brings.
3. Scented Epsom salts
If you’re going through SAD, you’re likely feeling lousy. To generate some uplifting vibes and soothe my body, I’ll sit in an Epsom salt bath, preferably one that has a citrus scent to improve my mood. You can buy a large bag of Epsom salts for the cost of a couple lattes, and it lasts forever.
You can upgrade your me time with your favourite self-care essentials: an aromatherapy candle, journal, or your favourite playlist. Just remember to set your phone aside during your soak.
4. Caring for plants
When my SAD kicks in, I know that my loved ones are going to rally around me to help keep the house clean, cook meals, and complete other everyday tasks.
When I’m at my lowest, it can make me feel better to take care of something small, like a houseplant. Studies have shown that gardening can help reduce feelings of depression. It’s a simple thing, but I really do believe watering my little succulents can help lift the clouds of my grey mood.
5. Meditation and an annual winter mantra
Meditation is an incredibly powerful practice for the mind, proven through numerous scientific studies to boost emotional health. This past summer, I made it a goal to sit down and meditate every single day, which I’ve done successfully using a free app called Headspace
With meditations geared toward depression and visualisations of sunlight and tropical beaches, this is shaping up to be an important tool in my SAD arsenal.
In the spirit of mindfulness, I also develop a new mantra each year to get me through winter, something that grounds me and brings me back to the present moment instead of wishing for summer.
This winter, you might even find me stringing some holiday lights. And with my “comfort kit” essentials in tow, I won’t be looking at them through tear-soaked eyes.
How does the seasons affect you?
Are any of the above techniques helpful to you?