Seasonal Affective Disorder

By Jen Taylor, LCSW-C

Are you struggling with the “winter blues?” If so, you are not alone! Many people report an increase in depressive symptoms during the winter months. I always found the “winter blues” to be a bit of a misnomer though – the problem for me is that there isn’t much BLUE to be found. In fact, the skies are often really gray this time of year. The lack of color in the trees and plants and even the quietness of the birds in the winter can make the entire season feel – well, blah!

Many people notice a change in mood during the winter months. For people with Seasonal Affective Disorder (with the convenient acronym SAD), the winter months often bring with them increased feelings of sadness, lack of energy, loss of interest in activities, sleeping too much, craving carbs or overeating, difficulty concentrating or at worst, suicidal thoughts. Seasonal Affective Disorder is marked by the pattern in which symptoms arrive towards the end of the year (when the time changes, when the weather gets colder, etc.) and usually lift in the spring (when we get more daylight hours and sunshine).

*Note, some people experience the opposite and have symptoms that start in the summer and resolve in the winter.

If you notice that you are feeling more down than usual and you can’t seem to pinpoint any specific triggers (like the loss of a loved one, a recent traumatic event, or a major life change) or you do not have a history of major depression, then you might consider reaching out to your doctor to see if your symptoms could be attributed to Seasonal Affective Disorder. (This is especially true if you can think back and notice a pattern throughout the past few years). There may be medications that can help you. Also, psychotherapy focused on healthy coping strategies and/or cognitive-behavioral therapy may help as well.

Other things that help Seasonal Affective Disorder include:

  • Getting a light box. Because Seasonal Affective Disorder is often triggered by the reduction in natural sunlight, a light box may help you. A light box is an inexpensive device that you can place on your desk or table. It simulates natural sunlight (without any of the harmful UV rays or skin coloration worries) and it can help boost your mood. Light boxes are usually most helpful if used first thing in the morning. Before purchasing a light box, talk with your doctor for more specific recommendations. (I have one and it works well for me!)
  • Spending time outside. Another helpful strategy is to go outside, if possible, especially during times when the sun is out. If this is not possible, even looking at sunny nature scenes or taking a virtual nature walk (search for this on YouTube) can be helpful. Change your screensaver to a bright and sunny destination, open your blinds/curtains, or add a colorful plant to your home environment.
  • Creating healthy habits. As much as possible, try to stick to healthy habits and routines. Go to bed and get up at the same time each day. Eat a balanced diet. Take walks, do some gentle stretching or exercises. Connect with friends and family members in real life, through online meetings, or even by telephone.

Reach out for additional emotional support and psychotherapy with JCS during the winter months and you may notice that getting support helps your symptoms improve before the flowers start to bloom in the spring.

Jen Taylor, LCSW-C is a Clinical Therapist at Jewish Community Services.

JCS is a comprehensive human services organization providing a broad range of services that meet the diverse, multi-dimensional needs of individuals and families throughout Central Maryland. To learn more, visit jcsbalt.org or call 410-466-9200.

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