Oct 13, 2021
It is the time of year we all know has been waiting in the wings; the days become shorter, the weather turns greyer and drizzlier, and many people start to feel a little bit lower or less happy. These feelings start to sink in and affect all aspects of our lives; our motivation decreases, sleep routines change, and we withdraw from regular social activities. Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD) is a form of depression that occurs when tangible changes from summer to autumn and winter take hold, causing a change in our circadian rhythm, or regular sleep/wake cycle. For some, it is an inconvenience, for others, it can be crippling. SAD affects approximately 10% of the population, and is more prevalent in women and younger people. The good news is that SAD is treatable, and can often be managed with a few changes to your everyday routine.
Adjusting to change is typically difficult, especially when you feel you have less energy or motivation to make those changes. The lack of sunlight in the morning and evening can be managed with a special kind of lamp called a dawn simulator. Lights like these can mimic natural sunlight for when you wake up, making you feel as though you are waking up to sunlight streaming into your bedroom. It can also be much less jarring to wake up to simulated sunlight than a blaring alarm clock. Many of these special lights can be used to simulate dusk as well, or play calming sounds like waves crashing on a beach or a breeze through the forest. Research has shown that sitting in front of a dawn simulator light for 30 minutes per day can minimize symptoms of SAD.
Like with any form of depression, exercise can make a real positive impact in treatment. It can be difficult to get out for a walk or run in the cold, rainy weather, so lean more into indoor activities such as yoga or tai chi, or if you have a treadmill or an exercise bike, schedule some time in a few days a week to burn off some extra energy and feel tired. In addition to exercise, regular routines can be incredibly useful in maintaining healthy emotions through the seasons. As tempting as it may be to go to bed or eat meals at a different time because of the lack of sunlight, try to do your regular activities at the same time you are accustomed to doing them. This will give you a sense of control and familiarity in your life as well as expose you to sunlight as often as is possible throughout the day.
Oftentimes, taking up new hobbies or activities can give you a sense of purpose that you may feel you lack. Joining a book club, even online, can introduce new people into your life and give you a renewed sense of purpose or meaning. Learning new skills like knitting or crocheting also offer a challenge to your brain as well as giving you something else to look forward to in your day.
Another strategy to deal with the effects of SAD could be leaning into the positive aspects of the seasons changing. Scheduling activities such as an orchard tour, a walk in the forest when the leaves are changing, doing a drive through a neighbourhood known for its Halloween decorations, or having friends over for a chili making contest can shed more positive light on the shorter days, showing you that the change isn’t necessarily bad; in fact, there are many things to embrace.
Seasonal Affective Disorder does not have to be something you grudgingly accept year after year. By making some small, effortful changes in your life, you can work through it to see more positives or cope better with the negatives. In doing so, your mood will improve and you may even start to look forward to the end of summer, embracing the inevitable and leaning into the crisp air and the shorter evenings to come.
Robert Baker, MA RCC