The winter months here in the Northern Hemisphere can be so tough! Snow, cold, and darkness seem to take over and it can be hard to keep your spirits up. You may be familiar with the term “the winter blues”, a colloquialism for Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD), which explains this phenomenon. SAD will typically hit in the fall and carry through the winter causing you to feel low energy, and moody. You will often feel better when spring and summer come around, but don’t settle and accept this as just how life is for you! This week we will talk all about SAD- why it happens, some indications you might be struggling through it, and some tips to battle it.
Bhavani Narayanan, MSc, RP (Qualifying) says “I believe seasons can have such an impact on our mental health because of the way sunlight exposure is scientifically correlated with our mood, but also because we experience seasons as anniversaries that repeat. Specific seasons can be hard for individuals who experienced adversity in years past during the season and are reminded of it. Winter can also be harder for individuals due to the holidays being a stressful event for some. We usually don’t get as much sun, and because of the weather we may no longer have opportunities to see people in our social support system or attend activities that are usually outdoors.”
The most common form of SAD is fall-onset, which we can all recognize as that lower affect, lower energy vibe that hits us when the days start getting shorter. However, spring-onset SAD is also possible, though far less likely. Johns Hopkins notes that this could be because the body makes more melatonin when it is dark outside, leading to more feelings of fatigue and decreased social and emotional energy.
So how will you know if you’re feeling the winter blues? Common symptoms include increased sleep and drowsiness, loss of pleasure in activities, social withdrawal, anxiety, irritability, guilt, hopelessness, or even a decreased sex drive. Michael Poydenko, MSc, RP
(Qualifying) adds “Seasonal Affective Disorder, might look like having a different emotional state depending on the season, paired with a loss of function or desire to enjoy the every day during that season. So commonly in the summer, everything feels great and in the winter things are horrible.”
Understanding what SAD is and how to recognize the signs is great, but our purpose here is to help you deal with its effects! Some common coping mechanisms you could try are establishing a routine, maintaining a healthy diet, seeking out social connections, using light therapy, and practicing mindfulness and relaxation techniques.
A routine can help you regulate your sleep schedule which will help with mood and energy levels in the long run. Building a healthy diet around nutrient-rich foods will provide essential vitamins and minerals that support general mental well-being. Seeking out social connections can help prevent you from becoming isolated during times when you may not feel like being particularly social. Light therapy can help make up for the sunlight you are not getting from the outdoors during the winter months, and studies have shown that 40-60% of people benefit from light therapy in combatting all different types of depression, including SAD. Practicing mindfulness has been shown to aid with relaxation, enthusiasm, and self-esteem. Self-awareness is also something that can be very helpful to practice regularly, and reflecting on your own mental health journey might help to alert you to a struggle with SAD, and help you cope.
Michael says that his favourite tip regarding SAD is to be prepared. It can be easy to convince yourself that it will be better this year but remember what you felt last year and prepare for it to be as bad or worse this year. Utilizing the tips outlined above is a great first step in dealing with SAD on your own, and it never hurts to talk to someone like one of our amazing therapists here at RMTC!
Kristina Beifuss, MDiv., RP builds on some of our tips by saying “embrace outdoor, physical, and social activities for Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD) relief. Sunlight and a brisk walk boost alertness and mood. Social engagement fosters connections, new relationships and community belonging, enhancing mental well-being. A combination of outdoor, physical, and social elements in your activities can create a powerful antidote to SAD.”
We hope this has been an informative look into what SAD is and how the “winter blues” may be affecting you. Remember to take some time to reflect on your mood throughout seasonal changes and get ahead of any adverse effects you have felt in the past. Our goal was to offer you some useful tips to get through the winter season happier and more confident and to remind you that attending therapy can sometimes really be the best course of action.
As always, if you are looking to book an appointment with any one of the therapists at Relationship Matters you may contact us via email at email@example.com, or by phone at (226) 894-4112.