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Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD): What It Is And How To Overcome It

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Temperatures are dropping. Days are short and it seems to be more cloudy than usual. It must be winter. Your energy levels are dropping. You’re losing interest in activities. You crave carbohydrates and feel like you’re overeating. You begin feeling hopeless, worthless, or guilty. According to the Mayo Clinic, this could be Seasonal Affective Disorder or SAD.

If you are experiencing any of these symptoms during winter, you are not alone. According to the American Psychiatric Association, about 5% of adults in the United States experience SAD during the year. Millions of adults are affected by this disease, and it’s not something to be minimized or brushed off as “winter blues”.

SAD can lead to social withdrawal, issues at school or work, alcohol or substance abuse, and even suicidal thoughts or behavior, according to the Mayo Clinic. If you think you may be experiencing any level of SAD you should contact a medical professional for support. CASL’s Behavioral Health and Clinical Services are here to provide psychotherapy and exercises to help you through these difficult months. You can contact the clinic here or email BehavioralHealth@CASLservice.org.

Even if your symptoms are not extreme, changes in the winter can be affecting your mental and physical health. Here’s what’s happening:

Increased Melatonin

Melatonin is the hormone responsible for helping you sleep. It is released when it is dark. Shorter days in the winter can lead to increased melatonin which may be why you feel more tired in the winter months.

Disruption To Your Circadian Rhythm

Your circadian rhythm is the physical, mental, and behavioral changes you experience in a 24-hour period. This is the routine by which we live. Your circadian rhythm affects hormone releases, appetite, temperature regulation, and sleep patterns.  Less sunlight, shorter days, and extreme temperatures disturb this rhythm leaving your body and your mind a little confused. Give yourself some self-compassion. You may need more sleep or nutrition to help stabilize this rhythm. Many organisms change their routines during winter, you may need to also.

Decreased Serotonin

Serotonin has many functions, and one of those functions is influencing happiness and mood regulation. Less sunlight causes serotonin levels to plummet affecting your mood. Low levels of serotonin have been linked to depression. Talk to your medical provider about options to increase your serotonin. For some people medication can be an option. If you are looking for a short-term and easy serotonin boost, you can try some of these activities:

Research has shown that yoga reduces stress and promotes relaxation. A relaxed mind and body can help you produce more serotonin. Research also shows that people who exercise regularly have higher levels of serotonin. Walking with a friend, team sports, or exercise classes are a great way to boost serotonin because you are also connecting socially — another serotonin booster. Contact us about CASL’s Enhance Fitness classes to get your sweat on and socialize in a fun, safe environment. 

Light therapy is helpful in fighting low mood and even SAD. Check out this light therapy lamp on Amazon.

Practicing gratitude can help you slow down and feel more present. Try keeping a journal and write a few things you are grateful for at night before you go to sleep. Having this as part of your nightly routine can help signal to your brain that it is time for bed, helping to regulate your sleep patterns.

Helping others can also bring about community connection and helps you feel better about yourself therefore raising serotonin levels. Check out volunteer opportunities in your community. You can also browse volunteer positions at CASL here.

Listening to music can help you feel calm, boosting your serotonin levels. We recommend this album on Spotify.  Music can also help you feel through your emotions which can be more difficult when your brain is experiencing a chemical imbalance. Try labeling your emotion using a feelings wheel and search for a playlist on YouTube or Spotify with that emotion.

Check out other ways you can increase serotonin in this blog post from Very Well Mind.

If you are feeling affected by the shorter days and lower temperatures you are not alone. There are small activities and routine changes you can utilize to help yourself feel more mentally and physically balanced. However, if you are still struggling, it is ok to ask for support. CASL’s Behavioral Health and Clinical Services can help you come up with a strategy to make it through these darker winter months. Contact us today: CASLservice.org/Contact or email BehavioralHealth@CASLservice.org.

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CASL is an all-inclusive non-profit agency with over 45 years of experience connecting families and individuals with the vital support they need: providing an educational and cultural foundation for our children, ensuring our seniors live full and independent lives with dignity, enhancing education and training for tomorrow’s workforce, putting immigrants on the pathway to citizenship, securing our community’s housing and financial well-being, navigating healthcare systems and wellness resources,​ and fighting for equal access to justice. Since our founding, CASL has been rooted in the principles of equity and justice. That legacy continues to shape our efforts today as we strive to champion diversity, equity, inclusion, and accessibility at all levels of the organization.