Are You Feeling Sad or SAD?
I sat down to write this post on a particularly cold and rainy day. I tried to remember the last day I saw a blue sky, felt the warmth of the sun, or enjoyed taking a walk outside. Spring suddenly felt so far away. With this realization, my mood dipped and I noticed a quick succession of sadness, defeat, and frustration. I was able to employ a few cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) techniques to reduce the spiral of negative thoughts and protect my mood. But, for many, these are consistent feelings throughout all of fall and winter because of Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD).
I’ve noticed that for many clients, late January and February are particularly difficult months. Not only because of the shorter days and cold weather, but the excitement and distraction of holidays has worn off and there is often not much on the calendar to look forward to until spring. Being in a city, living in the northeast, and a diagnosis of another mood disorder (bipolar, major depression, etc.), are some factors that further increase risk for SAD. SAD is characterized by symptoms such as depressed mood, irritability, lethargy, difficulty concentrating, disrupted sleep, decrease in regular activity level, isolation, craving carbohydrates and sugars, and weight gain, which fully remit during other seasons.
If you experience some of these symptoms, not to worry awareness and education are key to coping with SAD. Being able to label your experience and acknowledge that it is circumstantial and won’t last forever can be very beneficial. Additionally, there are several things that you can do to reduce the impact the season has on your mood. For example, planning a vacation or something to look forward to, trying light therapy, regulating sleep patterns, using CBT techniques to reduce unhelpful thoughts, and focusing on diet/exercise can all be effective means of coping.
If you want to learn more about the biological processes that are disrupted in the winter months leading to SAD and effective treatment methods, check out this article.
If you think you are being affected by Seasonal Affective Disorder, talk to your therapist and learn how to best help yourself get through the rest of the winter months. Relief can come before spring!
– Lisa Berkoski, LMHC