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  • Writer's pictureSara Sheikh-Oleslami

Feeling SAD? Seasonal Affective Disorder: Facts and Tips for Easing Symptoms

It is that time of year again. The summer days are long gone, and with the fleeting sun comes the cool breeze of fall, with windier days and rainy weather. Despite the vibrant burst of colourful leaves that fill the trees with promises of a cozy comfort only felt in the autumn and winter, a certain condition is often overlooked during this seasonal transition: SAD.

What is SAD? Seasonal affective disorder is a type of depression that manifests during particular seasons, predominantly in the fall as the days get shorter and lasting into the winter. SAD has encompassing effects on one’s daily life, negatively affecting energy levels, appetite, sleep, concentration, and overall mood.

SAD is different from your regular winter blues. 2-3% of Canadians will experience SAD in their lifetime, and certain groups are disproportionately affected. Women are 9 times more likely to be diagnosed with SAD than their male counterparts. Younger populations and those with a family history of SAD are also at greater risk. 15% of Canadians will experience a milder form of SAD, leaving them slightly depressed but still able to carry out their daily activities.

Do you have SAD? The colder months leave many tired and sluggish. Dreary, short days start to blend together, making many yearn for the vivacity of the summer. This in itself is not concerning, however if you notice these symptoms consistently appearing around the same time each year, taking a severe toll on your daily activities and quality of life, you might have SAD.

Ask yourself:

  • Are you sleeping all the time, or are you having trouble sleeping?

  • Is your exhaustion making it difficult to carry out tasks you once did with ease?

  • Has your appetite changed? Are you eating less or more than normal? Are you craving sugary and starchy foods?

  • Are you gaining or losing weight?

  • Have you noticed a change in your overall mood? Are you more irritable?

  • Have you withdrawn from your social circle? Are you avoiding people or activities you used to do?

  • Are you stressed or anxious?

  • Has your libido decreased?

  • Have you lost interest in physical contact with partners/friends?

  • Do you feel hopeless?

  • Are you angry with yourself? Do you feel guilty?

  • Are you sad?

The signs and symptoms of SAD are the same as those of major depression. These can manifest physically, or emotionally. If you answered yes to any of the above, talk to your doctor. They can rule out other causes of your symptoms and may offer treatments.

Tips to ease SAD symptoms. While no cure exists for SAD, certain things can help ease the whirlpool of symptoms you are experiencing and help you feel better. While seasonal depression can make finding motivation seem like an impossible task, it is important to remind yourself that recovery is a journey that does not happen overnight.

SAD Tip #1:Go outside!

While the indoors can be a charming, comfortable, and warm haven, try to go outside every day. This does not have to be a full-blown hike or run, it can be a short lunchtime walk or even a couple minutes on your balcony. Get as much natural sunlight as possible!

SAD Tip #2: Bring that natural light to you!

Open the curtains to let sunlight into your home. If possible, move your workspace near a window so you can soak in as much sunlight as possible.

SAD Tip #3: Reach out to friends and family!

Let them help you. This might seem like a difficult task, especially amidst the COVID-19 pandemic, but isolating yourself from your social circle can exacerbate your symptoms. Whether it is a simple text message or a video call, being around other people, albeit virtually, can boost your mood.

Make an effort to reconnect to social groups and relationships you may have retreated from and make an effort to build new connections.

Joining support groups for depression can also help, as talking with people facing similar problems can reduce your sense of isolation and can foster a supportive network you can turn to when you feel especially down.

SAD Tip #4: Shake that booty!

Exercise regularly. Even taking 30 minutes of your day for physical activity, whether it be walking around your neighborhood or going on a run, moving your body has proven to alleviate symptoms.

SAD Tip #5: Treat your body like royalty!

Be mindful of your diet and try eating balanced meals.

While it may be tempting to turn to sugary, starchy foods for comfort, eating small, well-balanced meals throughout the day chalk full of proteins, fruits, and vegetables can give you an energy boost and prevent mood swings.

SAD Tip #6: Follow a good sleep schedule!

Introducing a schedule can help you feel more balanced. Regulating the amount of sleep you get, so it’s not too much or too little, can further help boost your overall mood and energy levels.

SAD Tip #7: Reduce stress and do the things you love

Identify your stressors and brainstorm ways to alleviate them. Practicing mindfulness and doing the things you enjoy can help boost your mood and bring back familiarity and regularity to your days.

Some resources to turn to:

Mood disorders association of BC

MDABC provides treatment, support, education, and hope of recovery for people living with a mood disorder

Phone: 604-873-0103 (lower mainland)

Phone: 1-855-282-7979 (the rest of BC)

Canadian Mental Health Association

CMHA provides information and community resources on mental health or any mental illness

Phone: 1-800-555-8222 (toll-free in BC)

Phone: 604-688-3234 (greater Vancouver)

BC Partners for Mental Health and Addictions Information

Find more information, tips, and self-tests to help you understand many different mental health problems

Healthlink BC

Access free, non-emergency health information for anyone in your family, including mental health information

Phone: 811

It is crucial to recognize your symptoms and take action - consult your family physician and try some of the tips listed above. Those who try to push through their symptoms may only exacerbate them. SAD is nothing to ignore or dismiss, especially as it might worsen with COVID-19. At the end of the day, this is a common disorder affecting thousands annually, and if you are experiencing SAD, despite feelings of hopelessness and isolation, you are definitely not alone.

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