Getting through the darker days of winter, during a pandemic, whew, it’s a lot. It’s no wonder you may find yourself feeling sad, blue, or even depressed right now. You’ve likely heard the term SAD, an acronym for seasonal affective disorder, and you may even be wondering if that’s what you’re experiencing or perhaps what you’ve dealt with in the past.
Turns out, so many of us have mental health struggles as the seasons shift and change. An estimated ten million people in the U.S. experience SAD, typically, but not always in the winter months. As a therapist, I’ve helped many people cope with seasonal affective disorder and I’ve also experienced it myself. Thankfully, I learned several coping skills that have really helped me and I’m hoping they can support you too. You can find some of them in our Dealing With the SADs Collection, available in the Sanvello mobile app. Read on for more here first, and remember that you’re far from alone in the sad….or the SAD.
What is SAD?
There are few things I love more than spending warm summer days outside, soaking up the sunshine. So, I began to notice that each winter, my mood would change. I listened as the people around me described the holidays as their happiest time of the year, realizing it’s actually a pretty difficult time for me. Once I identified that I was experiencing seasonal affective disorder, I began to seek out support.
So what in the world is it? SAD is a form of depression that is related to a seasonal pattern. It typically occurs around the fall and winter months, but some people, although more rare, are affected by SAD during the spring or summer months. It’s also defined as something that’s experienced for at least two consecutive years, and people typically notice symptoms lessen when the season changes.
We’re not exactly sure why SAD occurs, but it may be that shorter days with less sunlight throws off the body’s natural rhythms.
What are the winter blues?
There are all kinds of reasons why we might feel down, especially when the days are shorter, we’re more isolated, and we’re navigating the chaos and comedown of the holidays. This time of year can even prompt memories, good and bad, that can impact our moods.
Let me assure you that everyone feels sad or blue sometimes – it’s a normal human emotion. The blues are usually experienced for a short period of time and they typically pass after a few days.
If you’re noticing that the blues are lingering and your usual pick-me-up coping tools are no longer working, consider reaching out to a loved one or a mental health professional for support.
How is depression different?
Feeling sad or down is a symptom of depression, but with depression these feelings last for at least two weeks or more and you may find yourself feeling this way most of the time. With depression, there can also be noticeable changes in your appetite, sleep, weight, and energy level.
Depression can cause people to feel less motivated, have difficulty concentrating, and experience less enjoyment from activities that usually bring joy. Some forms of depression can improve on their own, but often the support of a therapist and sometimes medication can greatly help.
Ways to cope with SAD
Since we’re in the middle of winter, with the added challenges of also being in a pandemic, it’s a good time to get familiar with some coping techniques. Here are some things that have been helpful for me while navigating SAD.
- Try bringing the light in. A light therapy box mimics outdoor light. Researchers believe this type of light causes a chemical change in the brain that can actually lift your mood. It’s recommended that you turn your lamp on and sit next to it first thing in the morning for 30-45 minutes. I keep one at my desk and I also have one for home.
- Seek out sunny moments. If there are days when the weather is better, it can be helpful to get outside and spend whatever time you can soaking up a little sun. Connecting with nature, getting some fresh air in our lungs, and just noticing little things, like the birds and grass, can boost our mood.
- Journal about the good stuff. I’ve found that keeping a gratitude journal and focusing on the things that I do have to be grateful for helps me to feel better. Try getting really granular and taking a moment to appreciate the little things – like your sun lamp or the aforementioned birds! – and see how it helps to shift your perspective throughout the day.
- Seek out support. If you’re struggling right now, there’s support out there for you. Whether it’s a family member, friend, coach, or therapist, having someone to talk to can help make things feel so much more manageable.
- Remember that it will pass. If you notice a seasonal pattern to your depression, it can help to remind yourself that things will get better. You may even want to try out a daily mantra to help you through.
- Create your mental health emergency kit. What are some things you can do to make yourself feel better? For me, it’s meditation, calling or texting a friend, going for a walk, or journaling. Want to make your go-to kit for those tough days? Create a list of things that boost your mood and know that they are always there for you when you need a little self-love.
- Spend time with animals. This one may not be for everyone (allergies are real!), but it can be a spirit-lifter to cuddle a furry friend. If pet ownership isn’t for you, consider reaching out to a local shelter to see if they’re accepting volunteers. Experiencing the warmth and unconditional love of an animal can make a huge difference in how you feel.
- Nourish yourself. Eating a healthy diet rich in foods like protein, carbs, and vitamins B12 and D can help you to feel better. Some people find it beneficial to take vitamin D supplements too, so talk to your doctor if you’d like to give them a try.
If you’re feeling down right now, know that it’s completely understandable. Whether you’re feeling winter blues, sadness, or SAD, you can always reach out for support. Find some step-by-step guidance in the Dealing With the SADs Collection, and know that we’ll be here for you, all year round.
By Regina Kendall, Sanvello Therapist
Regina is a licensed clinical social worker in California. She has over seven years of experience working with individuals who are dealing with depression, anxiety, PTSD, stress, life changes, grief/loss, and relationship issues. As a therapist, Regina uses cognitive behavioral therapy and mindfulness to support people on their mental health journey, so that they can achieve their goals. She brings a calming and supportive presence to sessions, while providing a non-judgmental, safe space.
When she’s not working with clients, Regina loves spending time with her partner, keeping up with her energetic toddler, practicing yoga, biking, and spending time outdoors with her puppy.