It’s time to mentally prepare for SAD and the winter months

Key Takeaways

  • Seasonal affective disorder (SAD) often occurs during the winter months.
  • Symptoms of SAD include depression, low libido, and lethargy.
  • Getting proactive about winter preparations early can improve your mental health in the long run.

Winter is coming. And while there may not be any “Game of Thrones” White Walkers headed their way, it’s still an ominous warning that seasonal affective disorder (SAD) is lurking around the corner. The days are getting shorter and colder, while the leaves are falling and don’t want to sprout again until spring. Overall, it can feel dark.

According to Mental Health America, about 5% of people experience seasonal depression annually. This can be caused by a decrease in serotonin and an increase in melatonin – both due to less sunlight. The likelihood of experiencing Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD) increases a person’s life from the equator. Symptoms often mirror those of general depression, including lethargy, low libido, and depression.

However, depending on where you live, winter occupies three to five months of the year. It’s a quarter of your time, and it feels like we’re spending every moment waiting for it to end, counting down to sunset again after six o’clock.

If you are not someone who can fully embrace winter sports or activities, the time can be more frustrating. There is nothing we can do to change the nature of winter – except move to a warmer climate or move to the southern hemisphere for the winter months. Still, we can make some changes around how we prepare for it and how it makes us feel.

“Weather, schedule changes, social opportunities and even aesthetics can affect one’s mood. There are ways to plan ahead and combat the overwhelming feelings that can make you miss out on seasonal opportunities,” says Dr. Taish Malone, licensed professional counselor at MindPath Health.

“Many times, feelings of fear and perspective have the biggest impact on how we experience things. Take time to embrace the positives that come with the change in weather, such as sweaters, snuggling, warm, soothing drinks, food, and all things hygge. The changing seasons. There is so much to offer that can be overlooked because of a distorted perspective that ignores the good.”

Ready to fight SAD? Here are mental health professional-backed strategies to fortify yourself during the winter months.

let the sun shine

Yes, the days are short, and sometimes the clouds are so thick that it’s hard to tell if the sun even exists. But there are days when the sun bursts through the windows and finds a way to spread a warm glow even in the dead of winter.

Taish Malone, Ph.D

Weather, schedule changes, social opportunities, and even aesthetics can affect one’s mood. There are some ways to plan ahead and combat nagging feelings that might make you miss out on the opportunities the seasons have to offer.

– Taish Malone, Ph.D

Try to let the light in on days like these (or frankly, even gray days when it’s not completely dark). “Sunlight can reduce fatigue, boost the immune system, and promote better sleep and digestion, not to mention promoting higher levels of dopamine, one of our happy hormones,” explains Malone.

Use light therapy

Commonly referred to as a SAD lamp, light boxes are artificial light that can trigger the brain to release mood-boosting chemicals. Malone recommends using it within an hour of waking up, but a provider can help you determine when to use it.

Prioritize scheduled activities

When it’s cold and dark, finding inspiration can be challenging. With this in mind, schedule specific times to do activities and try to include others, so it’s hard to back out at the last minute.

“Engaging in recreational sports, meet-up groups, scheduled workouts, community meetings — any activity that provides an outlet and source of enjoyment during the warmer months of the year — is important,” says Dr. Tynessa Franks, a clinical psychologist with her own private practice. . “Do what you can to prevent sunlight changes in the winter so you don’t go into full hibernation mode.”

Making specific plans to see others can help with another symptom of SAD and depression: depression. “Seasonal affective disorder makes people alike want to withdraw and isolate—these behaviors can exacerbate their symptoms,” says Saba Harouni Lurie, a licensed marriage and family therapist and founder of Take Root Therapy. “By making an increased effort to connect with others and have meaningful experiences, even when they feel like they don’t want to, one may find that they have an easier time coping with the winter months.”

Scheduling activities can also come in the form of planning a trip somewhere sunny and warm, suggests Malone.

Be aware of other changes

Along with a change in weather, autumn can also bring new schedules. As a parent, getting back into the rhythm of school can be challenging and frustrating. The same is true for anyone suddenly inundated with the holidays, says Malone. Be aware of these other factors when analyzing how you feel.

When to start preparing for winter

It’s never too early or too late to pay attention to your mental health. “In clinical practice, we often find that individuals begin to experience symptoms in October when temperatures begin to cool and daylight hours become noticeably shorter in many areas,” Franks said. “Symptoms intensify in November and continue into the winter months.”

Tynessa Franks, Ph.D

Do what you can to avoid the change in sunlight during the winter so that you don’t go into full hibernation mode.

– Tynessa Franks, Ph.D

Conditions like bipolar disorder can increase the likelihood of experiencing SAD, according to Lurie. He advises people with the disorder to “maintain a healthy routine throughout the year to minimize the effects of seasonal changes.”

When to See a Mental Health Professional

Talking to a mental health professional can always help in the lead up to or during the winter months. However, if you feel like your “daily functioning is being disrupted,” Franks recommends finding someone to talk to as soon as possible.

Malone also encourages individuals to seek professional care if the winter months mark a difficult anniversary of grief or injury.

What does this mean for you?

The winter months are a challenging time and can leave you feeling very alone. Sharing your feelings with others and taking time to connect can make a big difference in your well-being

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