Seasonal Affective Disorder: Ways to help overcome feeling stuck in the loop

For some, this is considered the most wonderful time of the year especially if you partake in the holiday season festivities or spending time with your families celebrating. This can be a time filled with joy, reflection on the past year, and a time for being thankful for the many blessings.

For others it can be a more difficult and stressful time as depending on the climate you are in the weather changes can affect your mood or may there are strained relationships one may have with friends or family, the feeling of fatigue sudden hits your body and mind or feeling burnout can even occur and affect your daily life during this time. Other symptoms can include overeating (emotional eating), anhedonia or loss of interest in pleasurable activities, sleeping too much or too little, feeling sadness, or having fluctuations in mood swings. This can also be enhanced more this year as a result of the ongoing pandemic we have been faced with for the past 9 months that has not shown any signs of letting up. There have also been a lot of other things that have occurred this year that may be causing compound stressors that can cause issues in day-to-day functioning.

It is important for us to know what we need from ourselves and develop healthy coping strategies and self–care routines to help us navigate through the seesaw of emotional content we are experiencing. I feel like sharing a few pointers it may help to ease your mind during these difficult times. I myself, even as a therapist have dealt with a seasonal affective disorder or (SAD) since I was 13 or 14 years old on and off throughout the years. I completely share this from not only a professional perspective of understanding what it is but a personal perspective of actually having gone through it. It usually doesn’t last long sometimes days or a week or two here and there, but it is important for me to have things to fall back on to be able to recenter myself. Seasonal affective disorder by definition is a mood disorder characterized by depression that occurs at the same time every year approximately. It is comprised of feelings, thoughts, and emotions that can shift your brain chemicals during a certain time of the year. There are more than 3 million cases a year of people being affected by this disorder according to Mayo Clinic.

The good news is we as human beings have an incredible survival instinct and willingness to survive through the ebbs and flows life can throw our way.

The good news is we as human beings have an incredible survival instinct and willingness to survive through the ebbs and flows life can throw our way. The goal is the ride the wave and trust in yourself to find what works best for you to get through an internal and external tug-o- war your body and mind are faced with. Below are a few tips or strategies to help you navigate through SAD so that it can become more manageable for you. Keep in mind we are all different and can be affected on different levels and different ways by this disorder.

1) Go outside and get some fresh air every once in a while

As crazy as it might sound especially if you live in a colder climate, it may do wonders for you to go outside everyday for 5 to 15 minutes minimum. Many of us are working from home currently and may find ourselves being in the house too much or for some even becoming stir crazy. It is important for us to experience the outside world sometimes even in the midst of a pandemic. Put your mask on, step outside even for a few minutes feel the cold or warm air on your skin. This can change your internal psychology and make you feel better even if its just for a few minutes.

2) Don’t be afraid that you will burden your support system

We all need that since of companionship and camaraderie in our lives in some capacity. We are social creatures by our very nature and need some level of social functioning and support. We cannot navigate through life alone as we are not intended to be that way based on our biochemistry and genetics. If you are going through a difficult time do not feel bad about asking for help. Don’t allow pride, ego or feeling like you may become a burden to someone who you love. The people who we love and that love us are in our lives for reason. Sometimes opening up to someone about your situation can help in the healing process. Take a chance and you might be pleasantly surprised by how much it can help!

3) The idea of radical acceptance

Radical acceptance is a Dialectical Behavioral Therapy coined term developed my Marsha M. Linehan. The idea is not disregarding what we did or are experiencing but learning to accept the reality of that which we cannot change. Learning to navigate through things when they seemingly are not going our way sometimes can be very helpful in coursing through SAD. Remember SAD does not last forever it is not something you have to deal with 365 days of the year, 7 days a week. Some days will be better than others. It is important for us to understand that there may be variables we cannot change in our favor but learning to accept them anyway and focus on the things we can control within our mental health is key to restoring optimal balance.

4) Determining what you need to do to shake off the funk

We are all different with different personalities and different challenges to overcome. The one thing those of us that are struggling with this have in common is the SAD. It may present differently in others but nonetheless there are some symptoms that can overlap in each case. When I am in a funk one of the first things, I do is ask myself a scaling question. Where am I feeling about things on a scale of 1 – 10? If I am a 4 that day, then I move to the next phase of asking myself why. What is my why? There is always a reason. Then, finally I move into asking myself what can I do to feel better or shift to a more positive perspective about things? If I can be transparent about where I am with myself about where I am then I can find coping mechanisms, or self – care tools to use to help me develop my own short – term treatment plan to get out of the funk. Try asking yourself those questions and I promise you will find a solution even if it takes a while to determine what that solution looks like for you.

5) Light therapy & Vitamin supplements

Many experts have studied the affects of SAD and how the lack of vitamin d and also vitamin c can play a role in feeling moodier, having low grade depressive symptoms or feeling off come from. During the colder, darker months of the year is usually when SAD strikes in millions of people. It is important for us to understand that our bodies may not be receiving or producing enough of vitamin d levels due to the Sun not coming out to greet us as much as it does during spring and summer months. You can visit your doctor to run test or to check your vitamin levels if you are unsure of what you should do and get recommendations.

Using a vitamin d supplement from your local store or even having a Doctor prescribe a particular supplement for you can be helpful as well. Light therapy can also be helpful to you as well. You can usually find these light therapy devices on Amazon or in some retailer stores Target, Walmart. It contains fluorescent light bulbs that block UV rays from affecting you. Many professionals believe that sitting in front of this light that can produce 10,000 lux of light for 30 minutes a day can help to change your mood and also simulates some of what you would get from more sunlight exposure. Studies show 60 to 80% of people can improve mood through light/phototherapy. Give it a shot and it might also be helpful to curb the SAD!

6) Exercise & Mental health therapy

Developing some sort of exercise routine can help. Cardiovascular/strength-based exercises can help with reducing SAD symptoms as it can release more positive chemicals throughout the body and mind helping one to feel better. Exercise also relaxes you and can help with lowering blood pressure and reducing heart rate, regulating more oxygen to the brain, and increasing metabolism. If you are in a funk, try exercising some, even if its going for a 20 – 30-minute walk 3 – 5 days a week. This can help boost your mood! If you feel that you also want to take things a step further in achieving optimal mental health, reach out to a therapist. Therapy can help you identify where your struggles are and help you to look at other ways to change your thinking and routine.

By: Gianne Shah

If you have any questions about SAD or are being faced with the difficult challenge of wanting to overcome SAD, you can reach me at gianne@cfctherapy.com

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