Why am I SAD?
Unsurprisingly, lots of people get depressed in the Winter or suffer from the “winter blues”. Some of the typical signs include appetite changes, sleeping more than usual, sluggishness, feelings of hopelessness and having little motivation, etc. Generally, it’s the short, dark days getting you down. Sound familiar?
As you might already know, the medical term for “winter blues” is actually Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD). It’s a psychological condition that results in depression, normally provoked by seasonal change that people typically experience most often in the winter.
You’re probably wondering why am I telling you about the winter blues in the middle of July when it’s currently 30-degrees in Toronto and there’s not a cloud in the sky. Well, there’s actually a small portion of the population who experience the full range of symptoms in reverse.
That’s right - Summertime SADness.
(As badly as I want to, I will not make a Lana reference. Or at least not another one...)
By contrast, summertime depression often brings insomnia, loss of appetite, weight loss and feelings of agitation or anxiety. It can also create an increased feeling of isolation. They say misery loves company and while it might be easier to find someone else down with the winter blues, during summer, everyone else around you seems to be having a great time.
Mental health is something that’s unique to the individual on a case-by-case basis. I’ve had some often unexpected, uninvited run-ins with depression and SAD but I’m not a professional nor have I found the key to happiness by any means. I’m a wonderful work in progress.
So in an effort to avoid telling you what you should do, I’ll just give you some insight on how I’m figuring it out and what works for me.
Recognize the signs. Don’t be afraid to ask for help.
About five years ago, there were certain times of year where I just would randomly have really bad periods of insomnia. I’d lose weight because I simply lost interest in maintaining a proper diet. My work habits fluctuated from overworking to the point I was sick to not being productive at all. Most of all, I had all these feelings of self-loathing and doubt that I didn’t know how to cope with. This prompted issues with anxiety and recurring isolation. All this and more lasted weeks or a couple weeks at a time. And, then it would dissipate.
Because of that, I refused to ask for help. I didn’t think I had a problem. There was no logical reason for me to have a problem. And, I knew that whenever I felt this way, it would eventually pass. Someone once told me that some kinds of sadness are toxic and when you can’t express it, it festers inside of you. She was right. One too many panic attacks later, I wasn’t sure I’d be able to come back from how I was feeling and admitted to myself that I wasn’t okay. And then I did the last thing I ever wanted to do. I asked for help.
HOW TO DEAL
Talk it Out
A few therapy sessions in, I had learned about Seasonal Affective Disorder and I was CURED!
Yeah, not quite.
In fact, at the time I was really annoyed that three sessions with a psychologist didn’t solve seventeen years of emotional baggage. But, it did help me begin to develop a better understanding of myself and what was going on in my brain. Also, it just feels really good to expel all that ickiness where those feelings grow from. Moral of the story: Be patient and be nice to yourself.
Counselling and cognitive behavioral therapy have been known to help treat SAD by helping to:
Identify and understand negative thoughts that may be making you feel worse
Discover healthy ways of coping that work for YOU (i.e. reducing avoidance behavior and social isolation, self-care, and learning how to ground yourself)
Learn how to proactively manage stress
Get Lit with Light Therapy
This one is definitely more relative to Winter SAD. Light therapy is one of the first line treatments for fall-onset SAD and usually involves sitting near a special lightbox to affect changes in brain chemicals linked to mood.***
I’ve also started looking into dawn simulators - also called wake up lights, bodyclocks or sunrise clocks. The change in seasons makes it hard to stay on a consistent sleep schedule throughout the year. Our bodies tend to follow the ebb and flow of our circadian rhythm. So regardless of what season may affect you, dawn simulators are supposed to help by tricking our bodies into falling asleep and waking up more naturally despite changes in daylight hours.
*** Before you purchase a light box, talk with your doctor about the best one for you, and familiarize yourself with the variety of features and options so that you buy a high-quality product that's safe and effective. Also ask your doctor about how and when to use the light box.***
Examples of light therapy products, dawn simulators and circadian lights.
Take Time to Take Care
This is Healthy is Hot after all and if self-love is supposed to be the very first romance then self-care is the first-date. Meditate, do yoga, try a pottery class, paint, and just take time for yourself! A healthy diet, exercise, and regulating your sleep schedule are all habits that help minimize SAD symptoms.
I’m not gonna sugar-coat it. I hate yoga. I’d still rather pretend I don’t have emotions than talk about them and I tend to sleep five hours a night rather than the recommended eight. Some days my grounding techniques don’t work and I feel trapped in a depression bubble waiting for the worst to pass. Making a commitment to yourself is not easy. But the options and the support are there. Know that you are not alone. All you can ask of yourself is that you put one foot in front of the other and do your best.