Coping with Oncoming Seasonal Affective Disorder

Every year I feel it coming, sometimes as early as the end of August. (I can actually feel it right now, sinking into my bones, making it hard to even write this blog.) Late August was cool in the Philadelphia area this year: mid-70s and breezy. I began to feel the pull of darkness on those days where I couldn’t abide bare legs while walking outside. Jackets accompanied me everywhere and I noticed the sun setting earlier and earlier. (As a food blogger you treasure natural daylight for photography.)

Winters are really hard for me. I thrive on warmth and long summer sunshine-filled days. I love to be outside, so when it’s cold and snowy and I have to stay inside it drives me to a bit of a depression. I’m not remotely alone in this: it’s estimated between 10 and 20% of Americans report noticing a lowering of mood or an increase in sadness during the shorter days of the year.

Symptoms of SAD

  • Sadness
  • Anxiety
  • irritability
  • loss of interest in usual activities
  • withdrawal from social activities
  • inability to concentrate
  • extreme fatigue and lack of energy
  • a “leaden” sensation in the limbs
  • increased need for sleep
  • craving for carbohydrates, and weight gain.

Symptoms of summer SAD include:

  • weight loss
  • agitation and restlessness
  • trouble sleeping
  • decreased appetite

Women are four times more common to experience SAD than men, the theory being that women are more likely to ruminate and dwell on things that make them sad. (I know I’m a serious ruminator so this is definitely an issue.) Also, SAD is much more common in people who live farther away from the equator (which may be why we Northerners love going to the Caribbean in the winter). When people are excited for Halloween and sipping their Pumpkin Spiced Lattes or posting on Facebook about how many days until Christmas you’re stowing your tank tops and shorts in deep storage and looking longingly at your bathing suit.

So what do we do about it? How do we deal with the inevitable onslaught of sadness that accompanies the long winter?

Coping with SAD

Get outside in the morning, even if it’s overcast. Even if it doesn’t seem sunny, the rays of the sun will reach your body. If you really can’t get outside, or if the sun isn’t up yet when you get out of bed, try light therapy.

Workout. (This is generally good advice anyway.) I mean, take it from Elle:

Maintain your routine. Meet up with your friends like you normally would, even during bad weather. Don’t just stay inside and isolate yourself, this will only make things worse.

Cut back on sugar. If you treat your stress and anxiety with sweets, try to eat something more balanced, like an apple and some cheese, which includes, fat, protein and fiber. It will be nourishing and keep you full longer without the sugar crash.

Find fun things to do that are winter-only. Skiing? Snowboarding? Snow shoeing? Building snow men? Or if you don’t like to actually be outside in the cold, take a class in the winter. Do something that makes winter special for you.

Book a trip somewhere sunny. I can’t really afford that, so I’ll just turn on my Happy Light, crank up the heat and pretend I’m on a beach in Tahiti. *sigh* But seriously, going somewhere warmer and sunnier can be good for your health.

Keep a journal. Write about your feelings in a journal. Putting thoughts and feelings down on paper is a great way to get them out of your system and (hopefully) out of your mind, at least for a short while.

Have a good cry. There’s nothing wrong with tears. Sometimes a good, cleansing cry is exactly what you need to reset your emotions and start fresh.

And if it gets too bad to deal with? See a doctor. You may have more than just seasonal depression.

Do you suffer from seasonal depression? What coping skills work for you?


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