Understanding Seasonal Affective Disorder: How It’s Different & What to Do About It

Understanding Seasonal Affective Disorder: How It’s Different & What to Do About It

We’re in the home stretch of 2020 you guys. Things might not be great, but we’re making it, and that’s something. I’ve talked previously about caring for your mental health during a pandemic, and I’ve also talked about why it’s important to let yourself feel however you’re feeling during these strange times.

But one thing I haven’t talked about yet is dealing with seasonal depression. You’d think that if you’re already feeling low, then seasonal depression won’t affect you, right? Unfortunately, that’s not how this works.

So today I’m going to dive into seasonal depression with you guys so that you know what to look for, when to ask for help, and how to help yourself at home.


What Is Seasonal Affective Disorder?

This kind of depression gets its own separate name and diagnosis because it’s different from other types of depression that we experience. You’ll typically see it abbreviated as SAD (what an on-point acronym), and it can happen to anyone.

Scientists believe that a sharp decrease in sunlight causes a drop in our levels of serotonin and melatonin, both of which affect our mood.

Most often, SAD starts to creep in around the middle of fall when the days get shorter, and it typically lifts in late spring or summer when the days are sunnier. We don’t know exactly why this triggers depression, but scientists believe that such a sharp decrease in sunlight causes a drop in our levels of serotonin and melatonin, both of which affect our mood.

A reduction in sunlight can also disrupt your body’s internal clock, and this, combined with the hormone fluctuations, is a recipe for a whole new layer of crappy feelings to add onto whatever else you might already be feeling.

In general, the symptoms of seasonal affective disorder feel a lot like “regular” depression, but you might notice that any other depressive or low feelings you’re experiencing are suddenly worsening or more amplified. If you’re unsure, you can read a full rundown of the symptoms of SAD from the Mayo Clinic.


There’s a Light in the Darkness

I know that explanation sounds a little bit bleak and hopeless, but there are steps you can take to keep the blues at bay. Even if you aren’t feeling any symptoms yet, I think it could be helpful (especially this year) to take some preemptive action so that you don’t suddenly find yourself feeling awful in a month or two.

1. Talk to your doctor

Seriously. If your doctor isn’t receptive to you talking about your mental health, it’s time for a new doctor. Most doctors are able to offer helpful advice and mental health referrals, and there are even cases where they might think that a low-dose antidepressant is the right thing to do to help you through the worst of the season.

2. Don’t hide your struggles

I’m not great at this one, but I’m learning that being honest about how I’m actually feeling doesn’t make me whiny or needy. It makes me normal and human, and the same goes for you!

Being honest about how you’re actually feeling doesn’t make you whiny or needy. It makes you normal and human.

Let your friends and family know that you’re not feeling great. Chances are, they’ll know exactly how you’re feeling (thanks 2020), and you can help to support each other (and by “support each other” I absolutely do mean “make a blanket nest on the couch with comfort food and Netflix”).

3. Consider online therapy

Usually, if you’re feeling the effects of SAD, it ends up taking a toll on other areas of your life. This can create a vicious downward spiral of hopelessness.

If you’re already feeling caught up in that spiral, or you’re worried that you might end up there, I highly recommend seeking out a counselor! Online therapy services like BetterHelp and Talkspace are a great way to get out of your own head and give yourself permission to talk through everything going on in your life.

I know that therapy isn’t in everyone’s budget, but I encourage you to check out a few online therapy sites anyway. They all offer flexible plans and affordable rates that take your income into account.


Bringing Out the Big Guns

There are a couple of treatments that can also be effective against SAD, but it’s important to talk to your doctor about them first so that he or she can guide you in the right direction.

The first option is a light box. Phototherapy has been pretty consistently proven to help fight seasonal affective disorder, but it only works if you use the right kind of light box and follow a prescribed schedule.

I’m obviously not a doctor, so I can’t recommend any specific light boxes for you, but this breakdown from the Mayo Clinic is a great resource to help you choose.

Another option that helps some people is a vitamin D supplement. Your doctor will be able to tell you what daily dose will be most effective for you, and he or she might suggest other supplements like B-12 or melatonin to help regulate your mood as well.


Don’t Let SAD Keep You Down

We have enough to deal with this year. Between the pandemic, politics, and daily stressors, there’s no room in my life (or yours!) for putting up with seasonal depression.

Seasonal affective disorder is real, and it can sneak up on any of us. Don’t be afraid to admit when you’re struggling. Let your doctor and your friends help you out. You’re worth the effort!

And please, if you’re overwhelmed, lacking resources, or feeling too hopeless, use these links:

You’re worth the effort!



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