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Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD): What Is It? And What Can You Do To Help Yourself?

Depression vs. “feeling blue”.


What Is Seasonal Affective Disorder?

It is not uncommon for a person to go through periods of “the blues” or mood swings, especially with the changing seasons; no one is happy about sunset at 4:30pm! 

For some people however, those mood changes are serious, they affect every aspect of that person’s life: their mood, thoughts, and ability to perform daily activities. This persistent suffering is seasonal affective disorder (SAD), one type of depression. 

In most cases, SAD symptoms start in the late/early winter and go away during the spring/summer months, this is called winter-pattern SAD or winter depression.

Did you know that there is summer depression too? Summer-pattern SAD/summer depression typically starts in late spring/early summer, it has different signs and symptoms from winter-pattern SAD and is lesson common, too! Read more here!

Signs & Symptoms of SAD

According to NIH, the National Institute of Mental Health;

SAD is not considered a separate disorder but is a type of depression characterized by its recurrent seasonal pattern, with symptoms lasting about 4 to 5 months per year. Therefore, the signs and symptoms of SAD include those associated with major depression, and some specific symptoms that differ for winter-pattern and summer-pattern SAD. Not every person with SAD will experience all of the symptoms listed below (NIMH). 

Symptoms of major depression may include:

  • Feeling depressed most of the day, nearly every day
  • Losing interest in activities you once enjoyed
  • Experiencing changes in appetite or weight
  • Having problems with sleep
  • Feeling sluggish or agitated
  • Having low energy
  • Feeling hopeless or worthless
  • Having difficulty concentrating
  • Having frequent thoughts of death or suicide

For winter-pattern SAD, additional specific symptoms may include:

  • Oversleeping (hypersomnia)
  • Overeating, particularly with a craving for carbohydrates
  • Weight gain
  • Social withdrawal (feeling like “hibernating”)

How is SAD Treated? 

SAD can be treated in a variety of ways, see here. But, due to local, state, and federal coronavirus lockdowns, it may be harder for one to access therapies/therapists, medications, go outside, and socialize with others. 

Coronavirus-Lead Lockdowns & Quarantine 

If you have been exposed to a coronavirus patient or are traveling between countries you may be advised, or forced, to quarantine yourself for 2 weeks – or until you do not show symptoms and test negative for COVID-19. 

These mandated quarantines may not allow for people to have access to direct sunlight in their homes/apartments, may not allow for people to see their therapist/psychiatrists or pick up medicine, and they definitely do not allow for any socialization (unless one is quarantined with family).   

What Can I Do To Help SAD Symptoms?

There’s no one trick for “beating” SAD or it’s debilitating symptoms, but there are small things you can do for yourself! 

  • Taking Vitamin D supplements
  • Stimulating yourself with colorful and bright surroundings 
  • Exercise/walk around outside if possible – or do easy workouts at home if you are quarantining! 

Or if you’re more into self-love and “feel-good medicines:”

  • Stock up on candles with calming scents – or just your favorites!
  • Keep your blinds open
  • Journal or blog your feelings, or use art to express yourself 
  • Stock up on healthy snacks and drinks that make you feel good
    • Avoid heavy carbohydrates and alcohol though!
  • Plan socially-distant activities with friends! 
    • Going for walks, or even parties on Zoom! 

Quarantine and lockdowns won’t last forever, take care of yourself and play it safe! Stay home when you can, and wear a mask and practice social distancing when you do go out! 

For Emergency Crisis & Suicide Prevention 

Get Immediate Help

If you or someone you know is in immediate distress or is thinking about hurting themselves, call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline toll-free at 1-800-273-TALK (8255) or the toll-free TTY number at 1-800-799-4TTY (4889). You also can text the Crisis Text Line (HELLO to 741741) or go to the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline website.

Information Via U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, National Institutes of Health, National Institute of Mental Health. (2015).

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