Do you feel blue when the seasons change, especially in the fall and winter? You may have Seasonal Affective Disorder. It’s a common issue that affects many Americans and can be helped through various treatments including Christian counseling.
What Is Seasonal Affective Disorder?
Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD) is a form of depression triggered by the lessening levels of daylight that occur in the autumn and winter months. SAD causes mild to moderate symptoms for most people. But if it is left untreated, or combined with other mental disorders, it can develop into severe depression with all its risks.
To equip yourself, it’s good to learn the facts about Seasonal Affective Disorder. That way, you can get the help you need when symptoms develop. A Christian counselor can also help you navigate your way through this problem.
Symptoms of Seasonal Affective Disorder
Symptoms of SAD mirror those of depression. However, with SAD the symptoms normally appear during the autumn and winter months, then go away in the spring and summer months. If you notice a pattern of these symptoms each fall and winter, you may likely have SAD.
Watch for these symptoms:
- Dry skin, brittle nails, and/or hair loss
- Bouts of tearfulness
- Irritation or uncharacteristically short temper
- Lack of concentration
- Loss of energy even with normal daily activities
- Loss of pleasure or interest in activities you once enjoyed
- Memory problems
- Negative impact on work
- Disinterest in attending normal social engagements
- Restlessness or pacing
- Significant increase or decrease in appetite
- Experiencing insomnia or sleeping too much
- Slow movements or slowed, quiet speech
- Feelings of inappropriate or excessive guilt
- Feelings of worthlessness
- Recurring thoughts about death, dying, and suicide
You may be diagnosed with SAD if you have at least three of these symptoms for at least two weeks in a row during the fall and winter months. Seasonal Affective Disorder often causes mild to moderate symptoms compared to regular depression, but you can still gain benefits from seeking treatment. With a plan in place for handling your symptoms, you can feel more confident in your coping skills even on days when the sun isn’t shining.
Many symptoms of SAD can be alleviated by at-home treatments. These tips can help you feel better, especially if you use them in combination. If they don’t resolve your problem, it’s a good idea to reach out to a Christian counselor for additional help.
Increase Light Exposure
Lack of sunlight is the main trigger for SAD symptoms, so it’s the first one you need to address. All you need is 15-30 minutes of exposure to light each day to improve your mood and relieve your symptoms. This can be accomplished in several ways.
When the sun is out, be sure to go outside and enjoy it. A short walk with your face turned upward to the sun will help you feel much better. If the weather is cold, invest in some winter gear so you can still get outside and soak in the sunlight. It’s important to wear sunscreen if you will be outside for more than fifteen minutes, but brief exposure to the sun without sunscreen will increase your vitamin D levels, a key to reducing SAD symptoms.
If the sun isn’t out, you need to take different measures to get the light you need. Bright, artificial light from a lamp intended to treat seasonal affective disorder can greatly relieve your SAD symptoms. If you use it regularly, you’ll see a big change in your mood.
There are many different lamps online to fit your budget. Whichever lamp you choose, use it for up to thirty minutes per day. You shouldn’t look directly at the light, but simply keep it to the side as you complete another task like washing dishes or working on your computer. Your lamp can be an excellent helper on cloudy or damp days when it’s hard to get outside. Just remember to never leave your lamp unattended, and don’t put it near anything that can catch fire.
Your diet is another way to combat the symptoms of SAD. It’s especially important to get the nutrients you need to increase your serotonin uptake during the winter months. Serotonin is a mood-regulating hormone, and it can be disrupted when you don’t get enough sunlight. But you can eat foods that promote serotonin production, so you are attacking your problem from the inside.
A balanced diet of lean protein, whole grains, fruits and vegetables, nuts, and healthy oils will complement serotonin production. Bone broth is an excellent way to get trace minerals that improve your mood. Berries are high in antioxidants and can help lift your mood.
Many of us turn to comfort foods in the winter. But these foods are often high in carbohydrates, sugar, fat, and salt. They may produce good feelings in the short term, but they aren’t particularly useful in boosting serotonin production. Instead of indulging in these foods each day, enjoy them as treats just a few times per week.
Your doctor or dietician can advise you on the best foods to eat when you are dealing with SAD. Little changes to your diet, like adding more fruits and vegetables, can make a significant difference in how you feel during the winter months.
Everyone knows that exercise is good for the body. But do you know that exercise is also good for your mental health? Regular exercise can be just as effective as a mild antidepressant for warding off the blues that come along with SAD. This can be accomplished through a total of thirty minutes of brisk walking each day.
Exercise produces endorphins, which lead to a natural high. This process will temporarily change the chemistry in your brain so you can offset feelings of depression. By engaging in light exercise every day, you wage war against the symptoms of SAD. Be sure to check with your doctor before beginning any course of exercise, to ensure that your heart and lungs are healthy.
Humans are wired for connection. This is even more important in the winter months because interactions with others can counteract the negative effects of SAD. You must prioritize in-person and online connections with others daily, so you don’t slip deeper into depression.
It’s normal to withdraw into yourself when you feel mild to moderate symptoms of SAD. But the feeling of wanting to withdraw can be your cue to reach out to others. A daily phone, Facetime, or Zoom connection with others can help you look forward to the interaction and will alleviate any feelings of loneliness. As you are intentional in scheduling these calls, you will feel uplifted, and your symptoms may lessen.
Get Quality Rest
A lack of quality rest can exacerbate symptoms of depression. Problems like insomnia and sleeping too much often affect victims of SAD, but you can counteract them with a specific plan.
To get into the resting mode, your brain needs a routine. First, it’s best to set the temperature in your bedroom on the cool side as a signal for your body to lower its internal temperature, a key component of entering a state of rest. Screen time should be limited because the blue light that a phone or television emits can interfere with your ability to fall asleep.
Try to eat at least two hours before going to bed so digestion doesn’t keep you awake. Also, avoid caffeine for the same amount of time. A brief walk after your last meal of the day can help metabolize your food so your body will be focused on going to sleep rather than on digestion.
Writing down your thoughts before bed can make a big difference in your sleep quality. You can dump out anxieties and frustrations in a journal, or you can write down several reasons for which you are thankful. This clean sweep of your mind will settle your brain down before bed.
These habits can make a significant difference in your moods when you have SAD. But if you are still struggling after putting these tips into practice, it may be time to get help from a Christian counselor. Your counselor may use a combination of talk therapy and medication to alleviate your symptoms. Call us today to learn about the best treatment plan for your SAD symptoms.
“Raining again…”, Courtesy of Kristina Tripkovic, Unsplash.com, CC0 License; “Meditating”, Courtesy of Ben Blennerhassett, Unsplash.com, CC0 License; “Hiding”, Courtesy of Fernando Dearferdo, Unsplash.com, CC0 License; “Happy!”, Courtesy of Kelli McClintock, Unsplash.com, CC0 License