By Jenna Lopez, LICSW, LIMHP
As summer turns to fall, there is no amount of pumpkin spice that can keep the S.A.D.s at bay. If you do not know what the S.A.D.s are, allow me to explain.
Seasonal Affective Disorder is a type of depression that is related to changes in season, most commonly experienced in the fall to winter months, but for some can cause symptoms in spring through summer. If you are like me and experience a noticeable shift in your overall mood from about October to March, you may be going through the S.A.D.s too.
As a Midwestern born and raised, I used to believe that my yearly mood shift was simply me not being a fan of cold and snow. The older I got the harder it became to ignore how truly different I feel during the winter months.
Then I learned about S.A.D. and it put into perspective what I was experiencing. Lower energy levels, depressed mood more days than not, losing interest in activities, feeling irritable most days and feelings of hopelessness.
These symptoms start off mild and then increase in intensity as the months progress. Then like magic, they simply seem to disappear as the sun comes out and temperatures rise.
The good news is that this brand of depression is predictable! When we know it is coming, we can have a plan. We can put that plan into place, practice and adjust it every year as we find what works and what doesn’t.
I thought I would share some of my plan in order to help others navigate managing their S.A.D.s:
- Pro tip - do not invalidate yourself by brushing this off as a seasonal funk that you must tough out on your own. The reduced level of sunshine in fall and winter can affect our biological clocks (circadian rhythm) and our brains production of serotonin, a brain transmitter that affects mood.
- I try to increase the frequency of my therapy appointments during these months, take a vitamin D supplement and most recently purchased a sun lamp (and loved it!) Vitamin D is what our body produces naturally when we get sunlight and can be taken in pill form.
- A sun lamp can assist in managing those serotonin shifts and help keep our system more regulated.
This year’s goal in the battle against S.A.D.s is figuring out how to maintain my level of movement. I am a runner, and this is how I like to complete my stress cycles, but it never happens in winter. This drop off in my movement means I am storing those stress cycles which increases the intensity of my symptoms of S.A.D.
Not this winter! I am determined to either invest in a treadmill, create a yoga routine at home, or pick up the old hand weights and start lunging.
I want to challenge you to try one new thing this S.A.D.s season and see how it makes you feel!