Beating Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD)

Beating Seasonal Affective Disorder

Does your mood tend to grey as the cooler, darker months roll in? Although also known as "the holiday season," for many, this time of year comes with depressed mood, fatigue, insomnia, oversleeping, weight gain, appetite changes, and trouble concentrating, to name a few. These are all symptoms of Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD), which is a mental health disorder impacting over three million Americans each year.

Symptoms of SAD can begin as early as late August or as late as January or February. On average, symptoms start in October or November and last about five months. Symptoms can increase or decrease during this time depending on the amount of light you're exposed to. For example, a cloudy day can worsen symptoms and a sunny day can mitigate symptoms.

"How do I know if I might have SAD?"

The most common symptoms of fall/winter seasonal affective disorder can be organized into four major categories:

  • Physical symptoms of SAD:

    • Low energy, changes in appetite (increase, decrease, and cravings for carbohydrates), stomach aches, changes in weight, muscle aches and pain, and headaches.

  • Emotional symptoms of SAD:

    • Feeling depressed, anxious, sad, irritable, and decreased enthusiasm for things previously enjoyed.

  • Cognitive symptoms of SAD:

    • Trouble concentrating, forgetfulness, negative self-talk (e.g., “I can’t stand winter”), and thoughts of death and/or suicide.

  • Behavioral symptoms of SAD:

    • Changes in eating habits (eating more or less, excessive carbohydrate consumption), reduced activity, withdrawing socially, crying, and sleep problems (excessive sleeping, insomnia, restlessness).

"What can I do if I have SAD?"

According to the American Psychological Association, SAD is a type of depression that may best be treated with Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT) – an evidence-based psychotherapy – as research indicates more long-term benefits than those from anti-depressant medication or light therapy. Other popular forms of treating SAD are with negative ions, medication, diet, exercise, and supplements.

CBT for SAD

CBT includes various types of cognitive, emotive, and behavioral interventions that can help you overcome SAD. Here's one method you can try on your own at home:

The CBT model suggests that once you are experiencing depression, if you increase activity the depression will lessen, which will follow with more activity, which will follow with decreased depression, and so on. One of the many tools provided by CBT to patients includes encouragement to keep a "Weekly Pleasant Activities Plan." Such a planner includes creating a calendar with planned activities and then filling in whether the activity was done, for how long, and an enjoyment rating. Observing a visual log of positive outcomes can be encouraging to keep putting effort into changing your behaviors.

If you think may be suffering from SAD, I hope you'll recognize that this is a treatable condition that you can seek help for. I'm happy to provide a free consultation to see if therapy might be the right fit for you. Contact me today or book a consultation now.

References:

American Psychiatric Association. (2013). Diagnostic and statistical manual of mental disorders 
(5th ed.). Washington, DC: Author.

Rohan, K. J. (2009). Coping with the seasons: A cognitive-behavioral approach to seasonal
affective disorder. New York, NY: Oxford University Press.

Rosenthal, J. Z., & Rosenthal, N. E. (2006). Seasonal affective disorder. In D. J. Kupfer, A. F. 
Schatzberg & D. J. Stein (Eds.), Textbook of mood disorders (pp. 527–540). Arlington,
VA: American Psychiatric Publishing, Inc.