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Despite what the holiday songs on your seasonal playlist may be telling you, it’s OK to not feel merry and joyous right now. The lack of social connection, coupled with financial strain that so many are facing, makes this holiday season unlike any other. And, if you’re someone who has historically been affected by the darker winter days, things can feel especially overwhelming right now. 

Seasonal affective disorder (SAD) is more than just experiencing fleeting “winter blues.” 

We’re talking about a specific type of depression that is related to seasonal changes, typically beginning in the late fall or in winter. Although it’s less common, SAD can also cause depression in the spring or early summer months. 

So why does this happen? Experiencing a decrease in sunlight can cause a disruption to our body’s internal clock, and can also disrupt the balance of our body’s serotonin and melatonin levels. According to the American Psychiatric Association, about 5% adults in the U.S. experience SAD. It has been found to be more commonly experienced amongst women and in those who live far from the equator, where there are fewer daylight hours in the winter months. 

Now that we’ve established what this clever acronym actually means, we’re here to help you better recognize the symptoms and learn how to navigate the winter months to the best of your ability. No forced merriment here…only the information and support you deserve. 

How to know if you’re struggling with SAD 

SAD can look a lot like depression, but symptoms differ from person to person. Indications of SAD can include an overall drain in energy, feeling “blah,” irritability, depression, change in appetite or weight, a noticeable withdrawal from the people and things that you normally enjoy, or trouble sleeping. 

Those who are prone to SAD could notice an increase in symptoms this year, due to the added stressors of the pandemic. If you think you’re experiencing SAD, consider reaching out to a mental healthcare provider to discuss your symptoms and a possible treatment plan. 

Ways to cope with SAD

  • Seek out natural light: Bundling up and going out for a walk in the morning or having your cup of coffee by a sunny window can help you get in an additional dose of sunlight on shorter days. Since most of us are working from home right now, you may also consider moving your desk to the place in the home that receives the most natural light. 
  • Consider light therapy: If you’re in need of a little more light, studies have found it to be beneficial to sit in front of a light therapy box for 20 minutes or more each day. Experts recommend conducting light therapy first thing in the morning during the winter months. Consult with your healthcare provider if you think this might be beneficial to your mental health this winter season. 
  • Check your habits: To help with SAD, try to regulate your circadian rhythm. That means do your best to sleep well, limit naps, and eat regular nutritious meals. It can be a challenge at first, but the longer you stick with it, the better you’ll feel. 
  • Connect with others: Prioritizing social connection is so important right now. Whether it’s setting up virtual hangouts with family and friends or sending a quick text to ask how someone else is doing, being intentional about connecting with others can help you to feel less alone and boost your mood. 
  • Seek out professional support: You shouldn’t have to go through depression alone. If you find yourself struggling, seek out a mental health provider who can provide the type of support you need to navigate this time. 
    Practice self-compassion: Try your best to be gentle to yourself during this time, especially on your most difficult days. Practicing self-compassion and prioritizing your well-being, to the best of your ability, can make a huge difference in your days. Try our Self-Compassion meditation. It’s not too long, and it can help. 

If you find that the lack of sunshine is negatively affecting you, know that you’re not alone. Navigating seasonal affective disorder during a time when we don’t have access to many of the things that bring us comfort is especially difficult. Slowly, the days will get brighter and if you need a little extra support in the meantime, we’re here for you.