At this time of the year, those who can afford it often spend time in warmer climates for good reason. This may be the best way of coping with Seasonal Affective Disorder (also called SAD). SAD is a type of depression that often begins in late fall or early winter. SAD may be related to changes in the amount of daylight you are exposed to. At JFS, as soon as the clocks are turned back, our clients experience more feelings of isolation and their ability to cope with their life challenges frequently decreases.
Seasonal Affective Disorder is estimated to affect 10 million Americans. Another 10 to 20 percent may have mild SAD. SAD is more common in women than in men, but men may have more severe symptoms. This disorder typically begins around age 20. Although some children and teenagers get SAD, it usually doesn’t start in people younger than age 20. Young people have a higher risk of winter SAD. SAD is actually less common among older adults. People with SAD are more likely to have blood relatives with SAD or another form of depression. People who have clinical depression or bipolar disorder usually find their symptoms of depression to worsen seasonally.
Symptoms of major depression may be part of SAD such as feeling depressed most of the day, nearly every day, feeling hopeless or worthless, low energy, loss of interest in activities that were once enjoyed, sleeping issues, agitation, changes in appetite or weight and difficulty concentrating. SAD will get worse when not treated. It’s important to consult with a family doctor, primary care provider or mental health provider and be prepared to report your experience.
There are many types of treatment for SAD and it’s critical to seek consultation from your healthcare professional regarding what is best for you. Some of the treatments available are using a light box, spending some time outside each day even when it’s cloudy, eating a well-balanced diet, exercising consistently, social interaction, cognitive behavioral therapy and anti-depressant medications. It’s not a one-size-fits-all solution. Each individual presents with different symptoms and different life circumstances. It’s important to be your own advocate and to be in tune with how you are feeling. Some of my favorite coping strategies are watching funny movies, establishing a regular sleep routine, playing board games, practicing stress management or mindfulness, cooking or baking, reading a good book and pretending I’m at a spa using skin moisturizers.
The good news about living in the Lehigh Valley is that the winter will end and we will turn the clocks forward in the near future. Don’t be too hard on yourself if you have SAD. You’re in good company and help is available. Please consult a professional and be proactive in seeking support.