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MINDFUL MOMENTS

Building Resilience for Seasonal Affective Disorder

By Emily Hanna, LLMSW

“Autumn is a second spring when every leaf is a flower”

– Albert Camus

For many, the arrival of fall offers a sense of beginning. This may take shape in entering a new grade in school, settling you and your children into new daily routines after summer, or simply a reminder of the ephemeral nature of the seasons. It can be both an invigorating time, and one that reminds us that soon weather, hours of daylight, or even one’s mood, may change as the leaves do. 

As stated in Psychology Today, Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD) is “a type of depression that has a recurring seasonal pattern”. Clinical SAD is estimated to affect 10 million Americans, and another 10-20% may have milder symptoms, colloquially called the “winter blues”. Symptoms of any degree of SAD may be different for each person, but common symptoms include feelings of sadness, changes in sleep, appetite, or weight, decreased energy, difficulty concentrating, loss of interest or pleasure in activities previously enjoyed, headaches, and stomach aches. Of note, if you experience thoughts of suicide, seek help sooner rather than later. Therapy and medication are highly effective treatment approaches to alleviate acute symptoms of SAD.

If you find yourself dreading the onset of winter and how it affects your well-being, it can be helpful to think of fall as a “runway” to cultivate routines that will benefit you before its arrival. This shift in mindset and early intervention can help put you ahead of the battle against the winter blues. A few habits to incorporate include:

1.     Utilizing light therapy, with consultation with your physician. This typically involves investing in a light therapy box and sitting in front of it 30-60 minutes a day, depending on sensitivity.

2.     With the consultation of your physician, taking Vitamin D supplements.

3.     Physical activity. Consider types of cold-weather activities, such as skiing, hiking, or snow shoeing that be help develop positive associations to winter.

4.     Making a habit of spending time with friends and/or family in a cozy atmosphere – connection, laughter, and time spent un-plugged should not be underrated.

5.     Participating in activities you enjoy even if the motivation is not there – motivation does not always strike when we want it to, but it can be cultivated.

Making some or all of these habits a part of your daily routine in the fall, before the days become darker and colder, may help to get ahead of the symptoms of SAD.

For tips on how to make habits stick more effectively, visit our previous blog post: New Year, New Intentions, and look forward to future posts about winter self-care strategies.

 

Citations

Seasonal Affective Disorder. (n.d.). Retrieved from

https://www.psychologytoday.com/us/conditions/seasonal-affective-disorder

Carryn Lund