October is Depression Awareness Month, and the first week of October is Mental Illness Awareness Week. Whilst it is important to regularly and openly discuss mental health conditions, the week is intended to bring everyone coming together and help raise awareness of mental illnesses. Depression is one of the mental illnesses that receives the most attention. After all, it is estimated that almost 4% of the population suffers from depression. There are however several types of depression, one that is common as days get colder is Seasonal Affective Disorder.
Understanding Seasonal Affective Disorder
As the days grow shorter and the temperatures drop, some of us might feel like we want to hibernate. It isn’t uncommon to experience a dip in mood during the colder months, but for some, it might be more serious.
You may remember my post about Autumn Anxiety. Although Autumn Anxiety is not officially diagnosable, in more extreme cases, it may lead to a psychological condition called Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD).
SAD is a type of depression that occurs seasonally, typically during the colder months, and it’s sometimes called seasonal or winter depression. While it’s more common in regions with less daylight and colder temperatures, it can affect people anywhere. Some people might actually suffer from SAD during summer and feel better in winter.
Whilst the exact cause of SAD is not fully understood, it is often linked to changes in sunlight exposure, which can disrupt our body clock and the production of hormones such as serotonin and melatonin.
Recognising the symptoms
Many of the symptoms of Seasonal Affective Disorder mimic those of regular depression, which is why it can sometimes be challenging to identify SAD. However, the main difference is that it occurs repetitively, at a particular time of the year. Asking yourself the following questions could help you to find out if what you are experiencing is SAD:
Persistent low mood – do you feel persistently sad, anxious, or irritable during specific seasons, particularly winter?
Fatigue – do you experience low energy levels, feel lethargic, and struggle with concentration?
Changes in sleep patterns – do you sleep longer than normal and find it hard to wake up in the morning?
Appetite change – do you crave foods containing lots of carbohydrates, and are you gaining weight?
Withdrawal – are you less active than normal, or have you lost interest in social activities and things that used to bring you joy?
Read also ‘5 Reasons Why Walking in Autumn Is Good for You‘
Combatting Seasonal Affective Disorder
We are all different and something that helps one might not work for others. Thankfully, various strategies and lifestyle changes can help combat SAD and bring a ray of sunshine into your life. So, find out what works best for you:
1. Light therapy – during light therapy we expose ourselves to a specialized lightbox that emits a bright, white light. This simulates natural sunlight and so encourages our brain to reduce melatonin production and increase serotonin production. It can help regulate your body’s internal clock, improving mood and energy levels.
2. Regular exercise – there are many things we can try ourselves and physical activity is one of them. Aim for at least 30 minutes of exercise most days to release endorphins and boost your mood to reduce SAD symptoms. Walking is helping me to boost my mental health and you can read more about the benefits of walking in autumn in this post.
3. Dietary choices – eating a balanced diet rich in fruits, vegetables, whole grains, and lean proteins can support your overall well-being. Studies also show that Omega-3 fatty acids, found in fatty fish like salmon, may also help alleviate symptoms of depression. Some people also find taking vitamin supplements, such as vitamin D, beneficial when it comes to boosting their energy levels. However, whilst it might help, taking supplements is not a substitute for SAD treatments.
4. Mindfulness and meditation – practices such as meditation, prayer and deep breathing exercises can help reduce stress and improve your mood. These simple, but effective techniques, help to relax your mind and body and destress as you recharge your batteries.
5. Social connection – one way we can beat SAD is to stay connected with our support circle during the colder months. You can also consider joining support groups or therapy to help manage your symptoms. This post may help you to discover ways of connecting with others.
6. Set realistic goals – break your daily tasks into smaller, achievable goals. Setting yourself a precise and measurable goal that you are likely to be able to achieve can help you maintain a sense of accomplishment and motivation.
7. Create a cosy environment – embrace the beauty of winter by creating a warm and inviting atmosphere in your home. Use soft lighting, warm colours, and cosy blankets to make your surroundings more inviting. Ever heard of hygge and its benefits on our well-being?
8. Seek professional help – if your symptoms are severe or significantly affecting your daily life, you might require a greater level of support. If you suffer from SAD or know anyone who might be, consider speaking with a mental health professional. If your mood is extremely low or you are having suicidal thoughts, please reach out for help immediately.
Embracing the sunshine within
Seasonal Affective Disorder may cast a shadow over your winter months, but you can learn to combat it effectively with the right strategies and support. You don’t have to hibernate and wait for winter to pass. You can embrace the sunshine within yourself by taking proactive steps to improve your mood and well-being during the colder seasons. Understanding the illness will make it easier for you to manage it.
If you are going through a hard time and feel that a bit of encouragement and support is what you might need right now, feel free to download my free e-book 7 Keys To Self-Healing, A Trauma Survivor’s Guide. It will equip you with knowledge and tools that will assist you on your healing journey, help you to care for yourself and feel more in control. Download your free e-book here.
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