11 Proven Ways to Deal with the Winter Blues – A Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD) Story

Better living with Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD) is possible. Each August I scheduled events for evenings and weekends in October, November, and December. It was the only thing that would make my married life tolerable.  The more that was on the schedule, the better life was.

Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD) is a difficult condition to live with. For the longest time I, knew that there’s something that made October, November, and December really difficult months but I really didn’t understand what it was. My husband was even more affected later in the year. In the worse of times during those months he simply covered his head with the blanket and would not rise.

That was the situation for three years. I knew that something was wrong.  But what? I could get out of bed with great difficulty. But he was really unable to get out of bed on the weekends and unbelievably depressed at all times.

Yet in the spring he was a different person. Smiling, happy, joyful even. He was never like that in the fall. It was like he was a happy person than a very sad person. After a couple years I, said to myself it is not going to be possible to live with someone who became basically a lump on a log for months, only wanting to eat and watch TV. Even though I knew that I was not myself during that time of year and although there was this profound sadness I felt I could focus and overcome the emotion with concentration.

It was not normal to be so unbelievably tired that sometimes it was even hard to stand up.  It was really that I was depressed for no reason. Even though I wanted to take time off work I never did and nor did my husband.  I literally would have to drag myself into work and my husband – whom here I shall name Eric for privacy reasons – was the same.  It was a painful, exhausting existence in which the only light was Christmas.  

I could focus on Christmas and for years that saved me. Christmas lights, cookies, and candles.  Getting out special decorations, making lots of food and having a reason to bring the outside in. The smell of pine and balsam was in the house for months.  Cookies at Christmas – that was the ticket!  I could do something worthwhile. The preparations kept me physically and mentally busy.  

With time I learned that the more active I was, the more lively I could become. So I swung into planning mode each year. Three activities each day on the weekend and one each night for months. My husband had a choice, of course.  For each time slot I, came up with three alternatives, all of which I liked, so I basically got to do what I wanted. It was either leave him or do something outside of ourselves.

Yet that did not address overeating and not sleeping well. My legs seemed very heavy, moving around was difficult but exercise and breathing seemed to help. For my husband things were similar.

I began to see a pattern here and that gave me hope that there must be a key to changing my existence. After much research at the library, I learned that there was a new condition that followed these exact patterns in Scandinavia and ultimately I found that Seasonal Affective Disorder was a condition that many people have when they lack sufficient exposure to the sun.  I learned that exposure to more light was helpful to some people in Sweden so  I decided to focus on changing the house to get in more light, breathing and spending time outside during the day in the winter.

Where you live makes a difference. The farther from the equator. SAD becomes more frequent in people, 1 percent of those who live in Florida and 9 percent of those who live in New England or Alaska suffer from SAD.

SAD is a winter depression. It is still not widely known by the general public even after all the years of research that has been done.  It’s a type of depression that affects millions of people in northern areas where and when the lack of light has the greatest effect during fall and winter months.  Researchers have come to the conclusion it’s caused by a biochemical imbalance of the hypothalamus.  In short, SAD can be triggered by lack of light and the short days of winter. “A lack of sunlight means our brains produce less serotonin, a neurotransmitter that affects our mood”, stated William Weggel, a psychiatrist at Mayo Clinic Health System. Weggel believes that less light contributes to the production of melatonin, a sleep-related hormone.

It is serotonin that keeps us happy or at least able to function.  Any amount of serotonin affects how we think, how we feel,  and of course, it affects our bodies.  If serotonin levels are too low it’s really hard to eat properly, get any kind of exercise, and even make decisions, because stress levels are so high.  We don’t eat well, we don’t sleep well and we become highly stressed.  And when we don’t exercise we deplete the levels of serotonin even more. It is indeed a terrible cycle. But fortunately, it’s a cycle that we can exit.  First of all we have to know this is not our fault and that there are many ways to manage Seasonal Affective Disorder.  

Of course, I had to figure out my symptoms on my own.  Check the list below and make the appropriate changes:

  • Acting differently in the fall and winter months than in the spring and summer
  • Sleep difficulties, like not sleeping well, waking up a lot
  • Falling asleep  but getting out of bed is an effort
  • More irritable during winter months
  • Not feeling social in the fall and winter vs. the spring and summer
  • Constantly craving sugar and carbohydrates, comfort foods
  • Gaining weight or losing weight during specific seasons
  • Feeling miserable for just no reason at all, feeling hopeless, apathetic and dead inside

There are so many other possible symptoms: irritability – just everything is annoying, just tense, everything seems overwhelming, difficulty making decisions, being filled with stress. Wreaking havoc on relationships with family,  significant others, and co-workers.

The good news about SAD is that if you become aware of its effects you eventually end up taking better care of your needs.  That’s all.  It could be managed without drugs, but some cases, like my husband’s, require intervention with antidepressants. Often times talk therapy helps as well. There are many strong herbal remedies to help with the depression. St. John’s Wort is one of the most effective and used often in Europe. Just make sure to not take them with other drugs.  

SAD healing is somewhat simple. The things that I suggest sound easy but they’re not so easy at the start of healing. Persistence counts.   

The first tool is laughter. Laughter changes the body. Mood actually changes when one starts to laugh. Yes, laughter truly is the best medicine.

Get tested for vitamin D. If the test comes back indicating decreased levels, take pills.  

Even try getting up with the sun and spending 30 minutes outside.

When it comes to SAD consider if there are a lot of light sources in the house, at work. Spend as much time as you can in exposure to light.

Spend time on what promotes happy feelings inside. That helps a great deal! Schedule events,  people to meet even if when seeing anyone is difficult. Focus on something! Anything. The activity itself is important. I found the Christmas sort of merry-making very helpful.   

Schedule routine actions, exercise, good food, and avoid spending time in bed outside of sleeping hours.

Shut your TV off!

Last and certainly not least: migrate to a sunny area, it has worked like a charm for me.

 

References

Overcoming Seasonal Affective Disorder.

Somatic therapies for seasonal affective disorder.

Seasonal Affective Disorder: An Overview of Assessment and Treatment Approaches

Seasonal affective disorder, winter type: current insights and treatment options.

Eye disorder differentiates seasonality outcomes in persons with severe visual impairment.

Vitamin D supplementation for treatment of seasonal affective symptoms in healthcare professionals: a double-blind randomised placebo-controlled trial.

Prevention of seasonal affective disorder in daily clinical practice: results of a survey in German-speaking countries.

Psychological therapies for preventing seasonal affective disorder.

Seasonal affective disorder and alcohol abuse disorder in a population-based study.

 

Learn more

SAD

Light therapy

Seasonal Affective Disorder

Psychotherapies

 

 

 

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