Since almost 5% of Americans experience Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD) every winter, it might be a good idea to learn more about it.
There’s a nip in the air and you huddle deeper into your favorite, coziest winter sweater. Holiday lights shine as far as the eye can see, transforming ordinary sights into a fairyland.
And the scent of pumpkin spice — or perhaps of piping hot chocolate if that’s more your speed — wafts through the air.
It is, indeed, the most wonderful time of the year. Isn’t it?
Well, for the millions who experience SAD, the holidays are not some magical return to childhood. Rather, they’re often the start of a long, hard mental and emotional battle through the winter months to come.
But what is SAD, exactly, and what can be done to combat its effects?
Most of us feel a sense of the blues, a sense of letdown, when the holidays are over and the short days and cold nights of winter truly set in. But that is not SAD.
SAD is far more than your run-of-the-mill winter blahs. And it’s a lot more common than you think.
In fact, it’s estimated that nearly 5% of people in the US experience SAD symptoms, and those symptoms can last for nearly half the year.
For sufferers, SAD symptoms can be debilitating, ranging from severe depression to suicidal ideation.
Researchers are still working to understand the causes of SAD. But the consensus is that decreased sunlight in the winter months leads to significant neurochemical imbalances.
Additionally, fewer daylight hours lead to marked shifts in the body’s circadian rhythms. And this can interfere with sleep, appetite, and even immune functions.
Protecting Mental Health
Despite how common SAD is, and how disruptive it can be in the lives of those who suffer from it, stigmatization of mental health challenges is still far too common. And that means that those who are struggling may be reluctant to reach out for help.
Worse, they may not even truly understand what is happening to them. They might not know that what they’re feeling is a real illness that can be treated.
After all, even as we continue to prioritize physical health and preventive care, mental health care is still largely lacking.
Mental health checkups are often still excluded from standard healthcare practices even though they should be a regular part of them.
And the repercussions of stigmatization and lack of awareness can be severe. If you’re struggling with a mental health challenge such as SAD, you are likely to experience:
- Difficulty in concentrating;
- And reduced productivity.
When you’re battling depression and/or stress, you’re also going to be more susceptible to illness. You might face an increased risk of addiction, infection, diabetes, and cardiovascular disease.
What’s To Be Done?
If you’re struggling with SAD, the most important thing is to remember that you are not alone and there is help. The best place to begin is by prioritizing your physical health.
A growing body of research is finding, for example, that exercise can be especially helpful in reducing the symptoms of SAD.
Getting outdoor exercise every day during daylight hours, even during cold weather, will help you work off stress and boost endorphins.
Best of all, it will increase the amount of sunlight you’re exposed to during these dark months of winter. And this will help to restore neurochemical balance.
Take Relaxing Breaks
In addition to getting daily exercise, ideally outside during daylight hours, it’s also important to take wellness holidays throughout this challenging season.
Taking the time to disconnect from life’s pressures and focus instead on self-nurturing is essential when you are contending with SAD.
If you have the time and resources to travel to a warmer climate, this can be the perfect way to lift your mood and keep SAD symptoms at bay.
But if that’s not possible, there are still many ways to enjoy a healing and restorative wellness holiday right from home.
The key is to prioritize self-care, to carve out the time and space you need to enjoy the things you love, to find the quiet and stillness you need to replenish mind, body, and soul.
Ask For Help
As you focus on your mental wellness, remember you don’t have to face the challenge alone.
Telehealth can be a tremendous resource when you’re searching for accessible, consistent, and affordable professional care.
Best of all, you can reach these experts any time, day or night, from the safety and convenience of your own home.
And if your SAD symptoms are leading you to turn to drugs or alcohol to cope, you can use telehealth services to reach experts. They’re specifically trained in the prevention and treatment of substance use disorders.
The long months of winter can take a toll on anyone, but they’re especially challenging for those contending with Seasonal Affective Disorder. The great news is, though, you don’t have to suffer.
From daily exercise to regular mental wellness breaks, there are things you can do to help combat the symptoms of SAD.
And there is expert help available to support you if the battle feels too tough to fight alone. No matter what the winter may bring, SAD doesn’t have to steal your joy.