What Is Seasonal Affective Disorder?

What Is Seasonal Affective Disorder?

“I love that it gets dark at 3 pm, that it’s pouring rain constantly, and that I haven’t seen the sun in 4 months!” said no one ever. Although some people may prefer the cold winter weather, there are a lot of us who are counting down the hours until patio season starts up again (okay, maybe that’s just me). So, until then, we are binge-watching TV, sleeping in, indulging in comfort foods, and pretty much avoiding the outdoors unless we absolutely have to go outside. The different seasons and the weather impact what we do and how we feel, which is why many of us prefer indoor activities during this time of year and for the next few months to come. However, on a rare day that the sunlight does shine through or when summer finally rolls around, we are quick to get outside and enjoy the sun. We may notice that our mood improves when the sun comes out and it can be a bit easier to get things done. Other times, we notice that when it’s dark and rainy, it’s a little harder to get out of bed, be alert, or even feel happy.

If you’re relating to this post right now, you’re not alone! Approximately, 17% of Canadians are also feeling pretty low during the winter months (CMHA, 2013). You can thank Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD) for these mood changes, which is a form of depression that occurs at certain times of the year, specifically between September/October and April/May. It affects anyone and everyone but is more common amongst women, individuals between 15-55, people who live further up north or farther down south away from the equator, or individuals with a family history of SAD or other types of depression (HealthLinkBC, 2017).

 

How Do I Know If Seasonal Affective Disorder is affecting me?

 
You may be experiencing Seasonal Affective Disorder if you identify with these statements:

  • I feel sad, moody, or anxious
  • I feel tired or slowed down all the time
  • I’ve lost of interest in work, friends, or interests
  • I’m gaining weight
  • I’m craving carbohydrates such as “comfort foods” like bread or pasta
  • I’m having trouble concentrating
  • I’ve been experiencing changes in my sleep, such as sleeping too much or not enough

(CMHA, 2013; HealthLinkBC, 2017)

 

Why Do We Struggle With SAD?

 
But why is SAD even an issue to begin with? It is thought that the lack of sunlight creates a change in the chemicals in our brain, specifically serotonin, which is responsible for regulating our mood. Additionally, because it is darker, it can signal to our brain that it’s time to sleep which can cause an increase of melatonin in our brain, which is responsible for regulating our sleep/wake rhythm. The truth is that we’re not completely sure why it happens, just that it does, and to many people in our community.

 

What Can I Do About SAD?

 
It’s great to identify if we have SAD. One of the main ways to help yourself if you’re struggling with SAD is to increase your exposure to the right wavelength of light. This can include:

  • Spending more time outside during daylight hours
  • Opening the curtains or blinds during the day
  • Rearranging the space that you are in to allow more sunlight to enter
  • Arranging office/household furniture so you can sit close to a window
  • Adding lamps into your space
  • Using a SAD Lamp

(CMHA, 2013)

Counselling can help with the symptoms of Seasonal Affective Disorder by giving us a better understanding of how SAD affects us as individuals and helping us to cope with the effects that come about during this time of year. It can also be useful in helping us to look at our thoughts, feelings, and behaviours and how they influence our mood and can aid us in creating strategies for making changes in these areas. In addition to this, being able to talk to someone who is able to empathize and listen to us can be very beneficial.

If you’re struggling with Seasonal Affective Disorder, you’re not alone and you don’t have to go it alone. Seeing a Registered Clinical Counsellor or one of us counselling interns can be a great help!

If you’re not sure if what you’re struggling with is Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD), please go to your family doctor who can help you determine if this is what you’re dealing with, and can refer you to a specialist if needed.

In the meantime, we’re here and we’d love to support you until the sun comes back! Feel free to contact us!

 

References:


Find Help Now. (2013). Retrieved from https://cmha.bc.ca/documents/seasonal-affective-disorder-2

Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD). (2017, May). Retrieved from https://www.healthlinkbc.ca/health-topics/hw169553