The first thing to recognize when it comes to seasonal affective disorder (SAD) is that, according to the National Institute of Mental Health, there are two types of seasonal affective disorder: winter-patterned SAD and summer-patterned SAD. Winter-patterned SAD sees symptoms beginning in the late fall or early winter, whereas summer-patterned SAD sees symptoms beginning in the late spring or early summer. Summer-patterned SAD is much less common than winter-patterned SAD.
Keep in mind that SAD is not considered to be a separate disorder but rather a type of depression that has predictable recurring timelines. SAD is relatively common and is far more common in areas that are further north, as they tend to vary most dramatically in terms of daylight hours during the various seasons. SAD is also typically more common in women than men, and there are many individuals with SAD that may not even know that they have the condition.
Symptoms of SAD
Like many other types of depression, SAD can have a number of different symptoms, and the symptoms you or a loved one displays may differ from the symptoms that someone else displays. This said, there are some common symptoms of SAD that many people with this particular type of depression disorder typically display, which we have listed below.
- Loss of interest and enjoyment from activities you typically enjoy
- Social withdrawal or isolation
- Experiencing unusual problems with your sleeping habits
- Anxiety and irritability
- Fatigue or a lower-than-normal energy level
- Changes in appetite and weight
- Headaches or other physical pains
- Mind fog or trouble thinking or concentrating
- Decreased sex drive
- Feeling sad, hopeless, worthless, or guilty nearly every day
However, as we mentioned above, there are two distinct types of SAD and the symptoms that a person displays can depend on the type of seasonal affective disorder that they have. Individuals who experience winter-patterned SAD typically:
- Crave carbohydrate-rich foods and overeat
- Gain weight
On the other side of the coin, individuals who experience summer-patterned SAD typically:
- Have trouble sleeping
- Have a poor appetite
- Lose weight
- Experience feelings of restlessness or anxiety
- Exhibit periods of aggressive or violent behavior
How to Cope With SAD
The best coping strategies for you will likely depend on what symptoms of SAD you display. This said we have here six extremely helpful coping strategies that help address some of the most common symptoms of SAD.
If you know you have a tendency to distance yourself from your loved ones and decline social activities during the colder (or warmer) seasons, you can try to combat this by actively prioritizing social activities in your schedule. Make time to visit with friends or family for coffee, dinner, or a walk through the park in your neighborhood.
Isolating yourself will only worsen your symptoms of SAD, so try to proactively combat this desire to withdraw by scheduling time with your loved ones.
Stick to a Routine
We’ve said it before (and we’ll say it again) humans like patterns. We like routines. They make us feel comfortable and productive. So, if you notice that you have a harder time motivating yourself to do things in particular seasons, try setting a consistent routine for your day.
The most important thing to include in this routine is your sleep schedule. SAD (both types) typically causes people to have sleep disorders that can worsen their other symptoms.
Try a New Alarm
On the topic of creating a more consistent sleep schedule, you may find that your current alarm really isn’t doing it for you. Most of us have sound-based alarms (of varying noises, some are lovely piano pieces and some less pleasant beeping noises). These alarms can be effective, but individuals with SAD (especially winter-patterned SAD)may find much more success in using a light-based alarm or a dawn simulator alarm.
These alarms gradually produce light that continually gets brighter (like the sun!), which can be much more effective in actually waking us up.
Move Your Body (Outside If You Can!)
There have been endless studies recounting the benefits of exercise in combating symptoms of depression. Luckily, SAD is no exception to this rule. Exercise can be especially helpful for individuals who have winter-patterned SAD because it can help combat the weight gain that is common during the colder months for these individuals.
If you know you have winter-patterned SAD, you may want to pay extra attention to ensuring that you keep up with a consistent exercise routine — whether that means hitting the gym, doing yoga, getting outside for a walk, or any other type of movement. If you can, try to exercise outside. Especially if you are suffering from winter-patterned SAD, you may not be getting enough sunlight which can lead to vitamin D deficiency. If you are unable to get outside due to the cold weather or any other reason, you may want to ask your healthcare provider if vitamin D supplements are a good option for you.
Focus on Your Health
Sometimes it can be easy to distance the mind from the body when we think about how to best take care of ourselves. However, our mind and body are connected, and one of the best ways to take care of our minds is to take care of our bodies. This means ensuring that you are getting regular exercise, sleeping well, eating healthy foods, and managing your stress.
We know this can be a lot to think about, especially if you are busy working each day. One thing that may be able to help you stay on top of making sure that you are making your health a priority is to keep a journal or habit tracker that allows you to take note of what you do for your body each day.
Talk to a Therapist
When it comes to coping with depression and all of the negative and complicated thoughts that depressive episodes bring with them, there are few things better than seeing a therapist or other mental health professional. This is because therapists are trained in many different techniques, strategies, and methods for coping with the many symptoms of mental health conditions like depression.
So, if you struggle with changes in your mood, sleep habits, and more and think you may have seasonal affective disorder, please do not hesitate to reach out to us at Love Heal Grow to get in touch with one of our therapists.