Seasonal affective disorder (SAD) is a common disorder connected with the changing seasons, most commonly as the winter months begin to set in and bring colder weather and limited daylight. While there can be a great degree of variance in how it affects each individual — with some people feeling only slight effects and others finding their mental state and daily routines highly disrupted — addressing its prevalence in an individual’s life is essential to create an effective, healthy plan for the winter months ahead.
Developing strategies early to help cope with SAD can empower each individual to create effective routines and establish hobbies that can help navigate this time safely and healthily.
Defining Seasonal Affective Disorder
SAD is a unique kind of depression that disrupts one’s regular rhythm and surfaces as an individual adjusts to the changing seasons, commonly occurring during winter. Its effects can range from not getting enough light in one’s day, to cold temperatures hindering one’s normal activities. This can make going outside, exercising, participating in a sports club, or even just going on a regular walk more difficult and uncomfortable.
Not only does the lack of daylight make it hard to maintain one’s schedule, but an individual may also feel left without many of their typical coping strategies. This can compromise one’s circadian rhythm and create feelings of depression as well.
While these feelings are common throughout winter, SAD can be tied to any month due to negative perceptions of a specific season. An individual’s trials with summer can also be classified under SAD. For example, social expectations may create anxiety around one’s self-confidence or self-image due to commercials or media surrounding “beach body season.”
Symptoms of SAD
Seasonal affective disorder will affect each individual differently. However, there are some signs and symptoms that can help an individual identify SAD to begin creating a plan to cope with the season’s difficulties. Some of the symptoms that may present themselves are:
- Chronic depression
- Disinterest in hobbies
- Feeling of aimlessness
- Being easily frustrated
- Difficulting maintaining focus
- Feelings of self-doubt or extreme self-criticism
- Changes in diet or overeating
On top of the feelings of depression or other symptoms that may be present, SAD can present several additional challenges for an individual — especially those struggling with substance abuse or navigating their recovery and sobriety.
The decrease in daylight can make it difficult to continue employing grounding strategies. The wealth of newfound free time that results from not having regular access to outdoor coping strategies can leave an individual bored and with little motivation to continue focusing on their sobriety. This combination, along with prevalent feelings of depression, can make relapse during these seasons a great danger. It is crucial to prepare for these annual hurdles to keep one’s sobriety at the forefront of one’s mind.
Implementing SAD Strategies
Developing strategies to cope with SAD can be difficult to implement if an individual is already stuck in the long nights and compromised mindset. Instead, preparing for SAD is best done while there is still light out and motivation to be had. Incorporating a routine and a balance of indoor and outdoor therapeutic activities during summer or autumn can help an individual embrace and practice maintaining these schedules before the onset of SAD.
Keep To a Schedule
Routines and predictability are great tools for an individual’s mental health. Keeping these routines throughout the year can combat some of the effects of SAD. Consistent morning alarms — no matter when dawn may break — can keep the body on a regular rhythm. It is essential to wake up, get out of bed, do a morning hygiene routine, and do other activities that can help an individual start the day on the right foot.
Such routines should continue to be employed throughout all seasons of the year. While keeping up with these routines can be difficult if one is waking up before the sun rises, it is a transition time that one can quickly adjust to and use to their advantage during the more difficult seasons.
Balance of Indoor and Outdoor Activities
Coping strategies can be personalized, and an individual may be partial towards indoor or outdoor activities. However, not all activities are equally viable during all parts of the year. Engaging in sports and outdoor activity is just as important as practicing indoor creative arts, such as music, painting, writing, yoga, meditation, and more.
Practicing both dimensions of therapeutic outlets can help individuals be comfortable and established in their practices. This can ensure that there is a space and time ready to be employed when it may be too cold to jog or when sports clubs are out of season.
Seasonal affective disorder is a unique kind of disorder that can be difficult to navigate on your own. If you or a loved one are preparing for the difficulties of the winter months and are looking for a way to begin creating your individualized strategies, Avalon Malibu can help you today. We offer an array of personalized recovery programs, from residential to partial hospitalization and intensive outpatient programs, all designed to meet you where you are with your unique needs and goals. Your time with us can be personalized with a plethora of proven therapeutic approaches, all guided by caring staff and a welcoming community. Art therapy, music, writing, psychodrama, and much more are available to help you better explore the unique effects of seasonal affective disorder on your life, all backed by education and individual sessions to further your understanding. For more information on how we can help you, call us today at (844) 857-5992.