What is Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD)?
To put it scientifically, SAD is: “a type of depression that comes and goes with the seasons, typically starting in the late fall and early winter and going away during the spring and summer” (National Institute of Mental Health).
Basically, it is decently self-explanatory, people who suffer from SAD will experience depressive feelings only during the fall and winter months, and their symptoms will “magically” disappear as soon as it warms up.
The important part of SAD is that you have to experience these symptoms for at least two years, and their symptoms have to be limited to the fall and winter months. Otherwise, a more accurate diagnosis of normal depression will be in order.
Symptoms of SAD include:
- Frequently feeling depressed for the majority of the day.
- Having feelings of hopelessness or worthlessness
- Difficulty concentrating
- Having low energy
- Losing interest in previously enjoyed activities
- Changes in appetite and weight
- Sleep problems
- Thoughts of suicide
My Experience With SAD
When I was young, I loved winter. Playing in the snow, lighting the fireplace, hot chocolate, all the holidays, winter was the best. I never really had a favorite season. About the time I started to drive, so four to five years ago, I began to hate winter. I realized how annoying driving in the snow was, and playing out in the snow was just not as fun. Summer became my favorite season, and I dreaded winter more and more.
Winter 2015-2016 was the first winter I struggled, for one reason: I was no longer home schooled. All growing up, the short days of winter did not bother me. If I did not have a lot of homework, school would be done by lunch, and the entire afternoon could be dedicated to playing outside and soaking up the winter sun. 2015 I started college. That winter I had an afternoon class from 3:40-5:20. I had two classes in the day time before that, as well as chapel (I go to Bible college). Therefore, my only opportunities for being outside when it was daylight for longer than five minutes were on the weekend. However, I worked. So, my only chance to be outside was never. By the end of that winter, I was definitely struggling mentally. Yet, when winter ended, I was back to normal and did not think it was a problem.
If you have read my post about my emetophobia, then you would know that it started for real when my family got a stomach bug in January 2016. Also, during that experience we were snowed in. Under like 36 inches of snow. And it was extremely traumatizing.
So the winter of 2016-2017 and 2017-2018 were absolutely terrible. My emetophobia made me constantly anxious about the stomach bugs that go around in the winter. Not being able to get fresh air and feeling trapped by snow and cold weather took its toll. I have been experiencing most of the above symptoms from October-April for the past two years. But this year, I accidentally made a change.
What I Changed:
I realized on the 8th that it was in fact the 8th of January, and the thought hit me like a brick. I am no different in anxiety level or depression than I was in the middle of the summer. I am literally thriving. So, on the 10th when I had my counseling appointment, we talked about what I have been doing. Here are the accidental changes I have made that have improved my SAD.
- Thinking positively- this may sound obvious, but honestly it was new for me. It was not even a conscious choice, I have just really thrown myself into being happy with each day. Taking joy in the little things, not tearing myself down when I have a bad day. Before, a bad day would turn into three or four bad days because I would dig myself into a hole and beat myself up over the fact that I was struggling. Therefore, accepting my weak days and celebrating my strong days has been really helpful in my quest to be positive.
- Not living in fear- this winter I have decided to work on being afraid of getting sick. There are 211 days between the 1st of October and the 30th of April. That is most of my year. Even if I were to get sick in that time, it would be maybe 3 days of that. I realized how ridiculous it was that I was making myself miserable for 211 days of my year for a possible 3 days of misery.
- Getting fresh air- getting outside is such a struggle in winter. It is cold, not very sunny, and kind of miserable. However, I have made a point to get at least 20 (preferably 45 to 60) minutes of time outside every day. I got a really awesome Eddie Bauer jacket for Christmas from my husband, which helps keep me warm, and I make sure to bundle up. I go for walks, kick around a soccer ball, and on the warmer days I even sit on our porch and read. I truly believe this has made all the difference. Having the opportunity to get fresh air and be active even when it is cold and the days are shorter is such a mood-booster.
I really wanted to share this as both an encouragement and also just a status as to the progress that I am making. SAD is not something that people have to just live through. You can improve your symptoms by changing your schedule and your thought process. I never thought that I would say this, but maybe winter is not that bad after all.