Every year in early November I feel personally attacked by a little thing called Daylight Saving Time. Though it’s said that it was put in place to reduce the use of electricity by extending daylight hours, the effects can feel anything but sunny for late risers like myself who are lucky to see eight hours of actual sunlight. If you tend to feel more sluggish and sadder during this time of the year, you may be suffering from seasonal affective disorder or SAD, a type of depression that usually happens in the fall and/or winter and is more likely to affect women over the age of 20, according to Dr. Jenny Taitz, clinical psychologist and author of How To Be Single And Happy. Dr. Taitz and I discussed some strategies to combat SAD and help you to feel your best, even when the weather and amount of light are literally the worst.
1. Find The Light
It’s not just you—there’s a science behind why you feel so sh*tty during the fall and winter months. According to Dr. Taitz, “Shorter days and reduced daylight can impact the brain and lead to feeling more lethargic, sad, and hopeless.” One of the best ways to target the problem is to seek out natural sunlight whenever possible, even with a short walk around the block. Another effective method is to purchase a light box designed specifically to treat people with SAD. The light emitted from the boxes mimics natural sunlight and produces effects in the brain that aid emotional regulation. Dr. Taitz notes that in many cases your doctor may be able to prescribe a light box that’s covered by insurance, but adds that there is a specific protocol to follow when using a light box, so it’s best to consult with your physician rather than treating yourself.
2. Watch Your Diet
If you’re anything like me, you may find yourself craving sweets and carbs every day more so than usual during this time of the year. This is because people with SAD tend to eat more foods that are rich in carbohydrates. As much as it pains me to type this, it’s a good idea to cut down on the carbs and stick to a diet rich in fruits and vegetables in order to combat depression. Studies have also found a link between SAD and low levels of vitamin D, so another useful strategy is taking vitamin D supplements or eating foods that are rich in vitamin D like eggs, salmon, and wild mushrooms.
3. Resist The Urge To Retreat
Because you aren’t feeling your best, you may feel tempted to stay at home and watch Schitt’s Creek until the next iteration of Daylight Saving Time retreat into yourself. To the extent you’re able, fight this urge and stick to a regular routine of seeing friends and family or doing something else you normally love to do. Dr. Taitz works with patients to create an “antidepressant schedule” consisting of things like plans with friends or a workout class that keeps them active and engaged. We are social creatures and being around other people helps to counteract the isolation and loneliness that SAD breeds.
4. Keep It Moving
Because our energy is lower during this time of year, it can be hard to summon the strength to get out of bed, let alone make it to a barre class. However, exercising not only boosts mood and focuses the mind, it also helps to maintain your circadian rhythm, which, when disrupted, is thought to bring about SAD symptoms. Ideally, if you can work out outside, you’ll not only get the benefits of exercise, you’ll also be exposed to natural light. If that’s not possible, then just stick to any routine that gets you moving.
5. Seek Professional Help
Depending on the severity of your symptoms, doing any of the above may feel downright impossible. If that’s the case, it’s time to seek help from a professional who can diagnose you and help you come up with a treatment plan. Dr. Taitz suggests cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT), which teaches you to notice your thought patterns: “I always encourage people to see emotional setbacks as opportunities rather than stuck points—rally your courage and problem solve,” she says. Many people suffering from SAD find that certain antidepressants can work wonders on symptoms. A doctor can tell you which medicine may be right for you and how long to take it, as antidepressants may take time to kick in and should generally not be stopped cold turkey.
If you’re feeling less than stellar this time of year, know you’re far from alone. SAD is treatable and you don’t have to spend the next few months in a dark hole. What other coping strategies do you use to combat SAD during the winter months? Let me know in the comments.
Images: Joshua Rawson-Harris / Unsplash; Giphy (5)
The sun is finally out, which has probably made you forget just how miserable you were during the winter months. Let’s be real, plenty of us dislike the cold and darkness, and that doesn’t mean that you’re suffering from any mental health issues. But for more than 3 million Americans every year who suffer from Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD), the winter months can bring about some distressing mental health problems. For those people, the change in seasons can bring about feelings of serious depression, hopelessness, and withdrawal. And it makes sense, since most experts associate SAD with a lack of sunlight and shorter days. But as someone who feels those symptoms when the days get longer and the weather gets warmer, it made me wonder: is summer seasonal depression a thing? I did some research and spoke to experts to find out if there’s any science behind what I am feeling.
For those of you who have no idea what I’m talking about, let’s start by defining SAD. Experts consider it to be a form of depression, the most distinguishing feature of this disorder is that there is a seasonal pattern to it. But notice it’s just a “seasonal pattern”, not specifying which season. As someone who is bothered by seasonal changes every few months, researching this topic was important to me personally. I started by googling summer depression, and then I spoke to an expert. I contacted Ian Cook, the ex-Director of the UCLA Depression Research and Clinic Program and now Professor Emeritus of Psychiatry. He’s also the Director of the Los Angeles TMS Institute. When I asked him about SAD, he said, “the particular symptoms can vary from person to person, but include the nine hallmark symptom areas that are used to diagnose depression.” He said SAD patients “predictably (more years than not) feel the onset of their symptoms at the same season, which is usually the winter months,” but in theory, the symptoms of depression can arise at any time of the year.
Seasonal affective disorder, baby?? https://t.co/GhboLWlIix
— Nyeleti? (@nyeleti_thabi) April 29, 2019
As our expert pointed out, the majority of SAD cases are reported during winter. However, Psychology Today reports that 10% of all seasonal affective disorder cases manifest during summer. That’s a sizeable percentage, so how come we never hear about it? Well, for one, research shows that we are better equipped to deal with winter depression. Basically, during winter months, we expect our morale to be low. Because of this, we may take precautions and prioritize our mental well-being. But when the winter’s finally over, we may end up taking our mental health for granted in the summer, which can lead to a different sort of seasonal depression.
There could also be something about the summer in particular that may cause people to feel more depressed during that season. While studies have shown that winter depression is triggered by lack of sunlight, depression is not as simple as how much sunlight we receive. Ultimately, there is a more complex mechanism in place. For one, humans are creatures of habit, and seasonal changes can too often throw our schedules out the window. This can factor into summer seasonal depression, because those symptoms include insomnia, lack of appetite, and weight loss, which are all things that can be caused or exacerbated by a routine change.
Whether or not Summer SAD is a concept that’s widely accepted by everyone, it’s important to take note of your mental health and how it changes during different times of the year. We all know that WebMD is not the best place to spend your time when you’re feeling down, but a quick Google search can give you perspective and put all your options in one place. For me, as I was researching this topic, I was surprised to see so many hits. Even though I experienced some of the symptoms of Summer SAD, I never got any help because I felt the symptoms I felt were relatively mild. I also told myself I could live with them because “nothing lasts forever.” In retrospect, I should not have just sat back and lived with it, and if I had known then what I know now, I would have been more motivated to seek out treatment options.
And, in general, if you find that seasonal depression is interfering with your daily life, then you should consider getting help. Like with any mental health issue, there isn’t a one-size-fits-all treatment approach. “We don’t have the kind of clinical trial evidence that would give us solid guidance, so treatment is largely empiric for each individual,” said Cook. However, like most mental disorders, experts have found ways to make daily life better. Cook added, “some Summer SAD patients have reported that trying to spend more of the day in a cool location, away from bright sunlight, may be helpful.”
If there’s one thing you should take from my search, it’s that preconceived notions of what mental illness looks like should not dictate your well-being. If you feel anxious, depressed, alone, just know that there are treatment options, and there are likely other people feeling the same way too.
Misha lives and studies in New York City, and is currently interested in the mystical healing powers in a glass of sangria.
Images: Sam Burriss / Unsplash; nyeleti_thabi / Twitter; Giphy