Don’t be SAD: Learning to Cope with Seasonal Affective Disorder

Have you been feeling the winter blues or under the weather lately? As it happens, what it’s like outside can play a significant role in influencing your mood and mental state. Perhaps you have noticed yourself or others getting grumpy and feeling gloomy over this past winter, and maybe you are also anxiously awaiting warm weather again. Many of us don’t realize that this can be caused by something beyond our control. It is a condition known as Seasonal Affective Disorder, otherwise quite fittingly known as SAD.  

The Basics

Seasonal Affective Disorder is a form of depression quite common in today’s society, particularly among those whose work schedules and everyday lives offer fewer chances to get outdoors. It is directly influenced by changes in seasons and the amount of light energy transmitted to the mind. By absorbing less light, your mood and overall energy will suffer. Most folks with this condition tend to encounter symptoms during colder, gloomier seasons but there are rare instances when bright, warm and cheerful times of the year such as spring and summer can cause it.

The Influence of Light Energy on the Mind

To better understand the relation between less-than-desirable outdoor conditions and our moods, we must first consider how we analyze light. It first acts on cells in the eye’s retina, which then transmits visual signals to the brain such as the hypothalamus controlling our natural sleep and wake cycles. When there is less light, our minds automatically adjust as a result. Circadian rhythms such as the sleep and wake cycle are therefore influenced, which can alter emotional states and moods. This is especially true during long, dark winters when there are fewer hours of daylight.

Light energy and your biological clock are not the only influencers of SAD symptoms. In addition, drops in serotonin and melatonin levels will alter sleep patterns and subsequent moods. In some cases, you may find yourself oversleeping, gaining weight, craving foods high in carbohydrates and feeling exhausted more often.

Common Symptoms

Seasonal Affective Disorder can be a severe and crippling problem for some, particularly if it leads to long-term depression that becomes more difficult to mitigate. This is why ensuring comfort, optimism, and a positive mindset is essential, regardless of the time of year. Common symptoms of SAD are many in number – more than most of us may realize – and may cause underlying issues such as anxiety or suicidal mindsets to surface. In short, the condition can bring out the worst in us – even feelings that we didn’t know we had.

A significant indicator of SAD is low energy and having problems with your sleep cycle. Changes in appetite or weight are also a factor, as is a loss of interest in typical favourite activities. Feelings are the most prominent symptom of the disorder, and they include those of hopelessness, worthlessness, agitation, sluggishness, and loneliness, just to name a few.

On Bipolar Disorder

Individuals living with bipolar disorder can experience SAD in different ways from the rest of us. Warmer, more cheerful seasons can invoke mania or hypomania – in other words, persistent disinhibition and elevation tied with irritation. This can be difficult to manage as it is almost habitual in terms of behaviour. On the flip side, seasons that have shorter days and don’t inspire positive feelings as easily (late fall and post-Christmas winter, for instance) can result in severe bouts of depression. If you suffer from bipolar disorder and SAD at the same time, it is imperative that you seek out expert help. Not doing so could be potentially dangerous.

Managing  Emotions and Inspiring Optimism

Sufferers of SAD are most vulnerable to emotional shifts that many have a hard time managing. For example, someone with the disorder stuck inside on a gloomy winter’s day may start to develop feelings tied to sadness such as loneliness, isolation and depression. Anger can also come into play with agitation, impatience and a tendency to overreact that intensifies as the condition worsens. Effectively, this means that your emotions can easily get the best of you when faced with this disorder.

Ideally, implementing ways to encourage positive emotions and perceptions is essential. There are plenty of great examples of this in action, including the cheerfully-coloured traditional houses of Newfoundland and Iceland. Closer to home, try changing up your interior décor; plants and bright, happy colours tend to benefit the mood of a room as well as the minds of those occupying it.

Nowadays more than ever, it is critical that we feel content, happy and look forward to each day. That said, Seasonal Affective Disorder can make achieving this mindset all that much more of a challenge. This is especially true for individuals coping with anxiety, grief, social isolation, pre-existing depression and other mental health issues, and it can subsequently spiral out of control if not appropriately addressed. Surrounding yourself with the right people, places and activities that inspire positive emotions is critical to overcoming this disorder and regaining control of your outlook on life, as is training your mind to ensure improved optimism.

We understand and respect how difficult this process can be, and if you liked to speak with a professional to find a way forward, we would be happy to help. Contact us today to meet with a therapist in a friendly, supportive and positive environment.