How to Manage your Holiday Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD)

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Stuck in rush hour traffic on my way home from work, I notice the sun has already begun to set. By the time I pull in my driveway, the sky has transitioned from pink cotton candy to entirely pitch black. I quickly hustle from the car to my front entrance in hopes to escape the blustery winds. With an abrupt shut of the door, I hang up my winter gear and settle inside. After a long, dreary day I melt into the couch and glance at the time on my phone: 6:07 PM. “Surely it can’t be only 6:00,” I think to myself; “it feels like 9:00…” Sound familiar?

With fall winding down and winter rapidly approaching, you may find yourself struggling to adjust to the cold temps, shorter days, and minimal sunlight. For some individuals, the change of season can be too confusing for the body and negatively impact one’s mood and behavior. This can simply be a case of mild “winter blues” or a specific type of depression known as Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD). According to the National Institute for Mental Health (NIMH), “SAD is a type of depression that comes and goes with the seasons, typically starting in the late fall and early winter and going away during the spring and summer.” SAD is relatively common and in addition to symptoms of major depression, people with SAD may also notice specific changes such as: “having low energy, excessive sleepiness (hypersomnia), overeating, weight gain, craving carbohydrates, and social withdrawal” (NIMH, 2016). The cause of SAD is unknown, however researchers speculate that vitamin D, serotonin, and melatonin may all play a role.

I for one can attest to feeling down from time to time when it is bitterly cold outside and the sun appears to be nonexistent. Later in the evenings I often find myself asking, “Where did the day go?” Yet, there is nothing better than seeing that first snowfall of the year. The powder is fresh, the city becomes quiet, and the world stands still for just a few moments. For people diagnosed with SAD, the novelty of the seasons transitioning wears off rather quickly, and they know this time as just an opportunity for mother nature to sabotage their internal body clock.

Concerned you may be showing signs of SAD? Determining whether you have a little cabin fever or something more such as SAD can be a slippery slope, therefore, consult with your doctor regarding the symptoms you are experiencing. Nevertheless, if you are struggling to define how you are feeling during this winter season, check out these 3 steps you can take that will offer some clarity.

Track Your Sleep

People with SAD often describe feeling overly sleepy or a desire to sleep more than usual. If you are concerned that you are sleeping more than you typically do, monitor your sleep patterns. There is an app for everything these days, but one that I find super useful is the sleep tracker built in on my phone. The app is not only able to analyze how many hours of sleep I get but can detect how long I’ve been in bed on average. Examining your sleep patterns is a great way to determine the amount of sleep your body needs. Some people need 8 hours of sleep, others can function off of a mere 6 hours; everyone is different. Assessing how much you sleep can indicate whether you are getting too much or too little sleep. 

Keep a Food Diary

Many nutritionists advise their clients to keep a food diary when trying to lose weight or pinpoint food sensitivities, but logging your meals can also be a helpful tactic if you are starting to notice specific cravings and additional lbs. Documenting what you have an appetite for and what you decide to nourish your body with will provide you with reliable data regarding your food intake. 

Appraise your Calendar

My calendar is typically filled with a happy hour here and there, a volunteer opportunity I’ve signed up for, and of course my average work week to-dos. Sometimes it can be overwhelming keeping up with everyone but for the most part, I enjoy having a busy schedule. I also get into the bad habit of canceling plans in the winter because “it’s too cold” out. When I catch myself doing this, I make sure to reschedule because surrounding myself with people I love and care about is a priority of mine. 

Are you isolating yourself during the holiday season? Are you finding that you have no motivation to be productive or complete daily tasks like you normally do? Making a mental note of what’s on your calendar and whether you follow through can help gauge your mood and behavior.

It’s always healthy to be cognisant of how much sleep we get, the food we eat, and the events we partake in, but it’s particularly important to remain aware of these things during the changing of the seasons. While the fall and winter months are typically known as “the most wonderful time of the year,” they can also be quite drab and dreary. With the freezing rain, lack of sunlight and early nightfall, our bodies are susceptible to negative mood and behavior changes. SAD affects millions, but fortunately there are treatments that can help you cope with this specific type of depression. Check in with yourself, and if you feel that you are having trouble greeting the seasons with open arms, know you are not alone. 

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