Seasonal Affective Disorder, appropriately known as “SAD,” is a mental disorder that impacts millions of Americans every year. Commonly nicknamed seasonal depression, SAD is defined by Mayo Clinic as a type of depression that affects individuals during the fall and winter months. Throw in the fact that we’re still in a pandemic and that the news is full of fresh tragedies each day, and it’s no wonder that we all feel so down right now. SAD can be very difficult to deal with, especially if you are going through it alone. The truth is, you are definitely not alone, and there are several easy steps you can take to help feel a little better this winter.
symptoms and risk factors of sad.
The following are the most common symptoms of SAD:
- Feeling depressed for most of the day, almost every day
- Losing interest in activities
- Low energy
- Trouble sleeping
- Changes in appetite or weight
- Feeling sluggish or agitated
- Difficulty concentrating
- Feeling hopeless, guilty, or worthless
- Thoughts of suicide
The following are potential risk factors for developing SAD:
- Family history: if you have blood relatives with SAD or depression
- Already having major depressive disorder or bipolar disorder
- Living far from the equator: the lack of sunlight is thought to exacerbate SAD symptoms
tips for dealing with sad.
While these tips may not completely cure your SAD, hopefully they can give you some comfort and relief during the next few months.
- Get natural sunlight.
Spending even a little time outside during the day can work wonders for your mental health. The sun provides much-needed Vitamin D, which we tend to lack when it gets dark so early. Going for a quick walk or sitting outside to drink your coffee can make a big difference. If your schedule prevents you from getting any sunlight, look into Vitamin D supplements to keep you from developing a deficiency.
- Light therapy.
If you aren’t able to get significant sunlight, another option is light therapy. During light therapy, you sit near a light therapy box that provides artificial sunlight. Light therapy has been used to treat disorders besides SAD, including jet lag and dementia. It’s important to note a few risk factors–excessive light therapy could result in eyestrain, headache, irritability, or nausea. Check with your physician before doing light therapy, but it does remain an option for extreme cases of SAD.
- Talk to family and friends.
It’s a stressful time, and I promise that someone in your close circle is struggling too, even if they don’t seem like they are. Reach out and talk with a trusted friend or family member about how you’re feeling. Try to also plan fun winter activities with your friends, like ice skating or going out to a restaurant, to remind yourself that there are still ways to maintain your relationships even when it’s cold and dark outside.
- Eat more Omega-3 fats.
Our diets can have a substantial impact on our mental health, and including a good amount of omega-3s can both give you much-needed nutrients and help boost your mood. Omega-3s can be found in fatty fish, nuts, seeds, oils, and fortified dairy products. Increasing your )mega-3 intake even a small amount can make a big difference. Overall, eating a balanced diet with plenty of fruits and vegetables can help both your body and mind.
- Counseling and medication.
If you are continuing to struggle with SAD or another form of depression, I highly recommend reaching out to a professional. Therapists and counselors are there to help you work through these feelings, which can help you feel better both during the winter and after. For some people, antidepressants can also work wonders for your symptoms.
I hope these tips gave you some new ideas for coping with SAD. Remember that these are just a few of the tips available; please consult with a professional if you are consistently feeling symptoms of SAD or major depressive disorder. CAPS is a great resource on campus if you are struggling and would like to speak with a professional. With another difficult year coming to a close, it can be hard to stay positive, but better (and sunnier) days are coming, so hang in there and remember you are not alone.