Let’s talk about Seasonal Affective Disorder, which is perfectly abbreviated to SAD

***Full disclosure, this post was hard to write because we hate this topic because it forces us to admit the existence of winter.***

Seasonal affective disorder (SAD) is a type of depression that occurs at the same time every year, typically in the fall and winter months. It is characterized by symptoms such as low mood, hopelessness, lack of energy, and unfortunately difficulty sleeping.

It’s quite a multidimensional thing, so we’ll start by examining it from different perspectives to better understand how these systems all contribute to lowered mood

From a biological perspective, SAD may be caused by changes in the levels of certain neurotransmitters, such as serotonin and melatonin, which are involved in regulating mood and sleep. These changes may be triggered by changes in the amount of sunlight exposure, which can affect the body’s internal clock.

From an evolutionary perspective, SAD may be a remnant of an adaptation to the seasonal changes in food availability and social activity that occurred during human’s ancestral past.

From a psychological perspective, SAD may be related to the person’s expectations, coping strategies, and prior experiences with seasonal changes.

From a cognitive perspective, SAD may be related to the person’s negative thoughts and beliefs about the winter season.

From a social perspective, SAD may be related to the reduced social interactions and increased isolation that often occur during the winter months.

From a neuroscientific perspective, SAD may be related to changes in the function and structure of certain brain regions, such as the hypothalamus, which regulate mood and the body’s internal clock.

What are some BAD IDEA coping mechanisms people use for SAD?

  1. Substance abuse: Some people may turn to alcohol or drugs to cope with the symptoms of SAD, which can lead to addiction and other negative consequences.
  2. Overeating or emotional eating: Some people may use food as a way to cope with the feelings of sadness and hopelessness associated with SAD, which can lead to weight gain and other health problems.
  3. Isolation: Some people may withdraw from friends and family in an attempt to avoid dealing with their symptoms, which can lead to increased feelings of loneliness and isolation.
  4. Lack of self-care: Some people may neglect their physical and emotional health, such as not taking care of themselves by not eating, sleeping, or bathing.
  5. Avoiding treatment: Some people may avoid seeking professional help or following through with recommended treatment, which can prolong and worsen their symptoms.

It’s important to remember that these coping mechanisms, though they may sneak into your life, are unhealthy and may not address the root cause of the symptoms.

What can someone do about seasonal affective disorder that’s actually healthy?

There are several things that someone with seasonal affective disorder (SAD) can do to manage their symptoms:

  1. Medication: Antidepressant medications may be prescribed to help manage symptoms of SAD. We actually suggest starting with a visit to your family doctor.
  2. Light therapy: This involves sitting in front of a special light box for 30 minutes to an hour each day. The light box emits bright light that mimics natural outdoor light and can help regulate the body’s internal clock and improve mood.
  3. Exercise: Regular physical activity can help reduce symptoms of depression and improve overall well-being.
  4. Psychotherapy: Talking to a therapist or counselor can help you learn coping strategies and identify negative patterns of thinking that may be contributing to your SAD.
  5. Mindfulness and relaxation techniques: practices such as meditation, yoga and deep breathing can help reduce stress and improve mood.
  6. Social Support: Maintaining a good social support network can help alleviate some of the isolation that can occur during the winter months.
  7. Vitamin D Supplementation: Low levels of Vitamin D can contribute to SAD symptoms, taking Vitamin D supplements can help alleviate the symptoms.

It’s important to note that everyone’s experience with SAD is unique, and the most effective treatment may vary from person to person.

What does therapy for SAD look like?

Therapy for seasonal affective disorder (SAD) tends to focus on cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT). Cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT) focuses on identifying and changing negative patterns of thinking and behavior that contribute to SAD symptoms. A therapist will work with you to identify negative thoughts and beliefs about the winter season, and help you to challenge and replace them with more positive and realistic ones. CBT may also include behavioral techniques, such as scheduling pleasurable activities, to increase exposure to natural light, and social support.

We do use psychodynamic approaches which go further down the rabbit hole in specific contexts. One example is if the SAD episode led to a number of complex issues being unearthed such as substance use to deal with painful feelings which were previously buried by staying busy outdoors. In this case, the therapist will help you to identify and understand any unresolved emotional issues or past traumas that may be impacting your current experience of SAD. This type of therapy may involve a longer-term commitment and a deeper exploration of your inner self.

It’s important to note that everyone’s experience with SAD is unique, and the most effective treatment may vary from person to person.

How do I know what will work for me?

I don’t think you can know in advance what will work for you. We suggest starting with exercise, social interactions, and light therapy as they are all way cheaper than Psychotherapy and medication. If you’re having trouble with the motivation or don’t find those do enough, make an appointment with us and we’ll make a game plan for you to tackle this.