Some of my favorite childhood memories include snow. I always thought I was friends with winter. The break-up was sneaky at first. Since I had always looked forward to colder temperatures during sweltering summer months, I never expected winter to give me the cold shoulder.
And then winter 2021 hit.
I spent more time in bed. If I wasn’t at work, I was usually wrapped under a blanket, attempting to warm the feelings of dread that were taking me over. I had heard of the “Winter Blues.” This wasn’t that. It was worse. This was depression. I was sad.
And I was suffering from SAD.
SAD, or Seasonal Affective Disorder, is a type of depression that occurs during the same season each year, typically in the fall and winter months. As the days get shorter and the weather gets colder, people with SAD may experience symptoms such as low mood, fatigue, and a lack of interest in activities they normally enjoy.
That was me. One of my creative outlets is writing. Winter hit me hard and left me with many questions. I didn’t write one word of fiction in 2022. I spent the year learning how to get better. I also realized that 2021 wasn’t the first year that I had felt that way. But it was the first time it hampered my quality of life. It’s still a mystery why it hit hard that year. But I’m on my way to solving it.
The exact cause of SAD is not known, but Bevin Lovelace, Epic Health’s Chief Operating Office, said, “Less sunlight can cause a biological shift in one’s circadian rhythm which can lead to a disruption in sleep patterns.” Disrupting the body’s internal clock can affect the levels of certain chemicals in the brain, such as serotonin and melatonin. “Anyone can experience ‘winter blues.’ However, if symptoms are severe enough to interfere with normal daily functioning and last for several months, then one most likely is suffering from SAD (or depression with seasonal pattern),” Lovelace continued.
SAD is more dominating in winter but can be present throughout the year. Lovelace added, “Although it is rare, it can affect people in other seasons, like spring or summer. It is also more prevalent in women.”
While SAD is a serious condition, there are effective treatment options available. One of the most common treatments is light therapy, which involves sitting in front of a special light box for a certain amount of time each day. Lovelace added, “Using daylight or bright-white light bulbs in lamps can be effective. Some studies have shown that blue light can be helpful. Also, keeping curtains/window treatments open during the day can be beneficial.”
I became more aware of the feelings and lack of energy after learning about SAD. Getting more active and paying attention to my diet has helped tremendously. I still have moments of lethargy, but this winter hasn’t been bad. The key, for me, is awareness. When I feel down, I seek a little sunshine and fresh air. “Some doctors prescribe Vitamin D to assist with lessening the symptoms,” Lovelace said. Other medical options include antidepressant medications, talk therapy, psychotherapy, or a combination of those. Lovelace suggested engaging in social activities and spending time outside by going for walks or wrapping up under a blanket and reading a book as other ways to cope with SAD.
It is important to remember that SAD is a treatable condition. Lovelace said, “One should seek professional help when the symptoms are overwhelming and/or are affecting daily functioning — if you’re unable to get out of bed, struggling to complete daily tasks, find it hard to go to work, extreme lack of energy or motivation, to name a few.” A professional can help you develop a treatment plan that is tailored to your specific needs and help you manage your symptoms effectively.
We go the extra mile to nourish our physical health. It’s important not to starve our mental health. A quote that I revisit often is from Marcus Aurelius. “The happiness of your life depends upon the quality of your thoughts.”
The key to self-care is the self. Get to know your body, your mind, and your thoughts. Your future self will thank you.