Fall is such a beautiful time of the year. The leaves are changing and showing their magnificent colors. The temperature drops a little and we enjoy cozy-er nights, not to mention fall fashion.
Overall, I love the fall it’s one of my favourite times of the year. But there is one thing that I don’t love about the fall, there is one struggle that raises its pretty little head this time of the year, and that’s Seasonal Affective Disorder or SAD.
Last year after going to the doctor repeatedly complaining of unrelenting fatigue and disrupted moods, and after blood tests and other tests to make sure I had no other health problems, I was told I had Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD). And honestly it was kind of an Ahah! moment for me.
Before I go further, I do want to put a disclaimer that I am not a mental health professional or doctor. If you have concerns about SAD you should consult with your health care practitioner or a mental health professional. If you are experiencing symptoms of depression or are having suicidal thoughts please seek help.
According to the Centre for Addiction and Mental Health, SAD ” is a type of depression that occurs during the same season each year. It usually happens in the fall or winter…”.
Basically, it is a type of depression that they believe is caused by the lack of light during the colder months. It is quite common for people living in northern areas or far southern areas, anywhere in which there are significant season changes that involve shifting light levels.
For me, it manifests as extreme fatigue, brain fog, irritability, and agitation. I am so tired no matter how much coffee I drink or how much I sleep I get. I have difficulty concentrating and I feel very grumpy and on-edge, and normally I’m a fairly positive and upbeat person. I also struggle with anxiety disorders and OCD, and find that when my SAD is acting up my anxiety and OCD symptoms become worse as well.
Some of you might be wondering why I would share this? I wanted to share my experience to help lessen the stigma around mental health challenges and to share helpful information for anyone who is concerned about SAD.
I also want to share with you some tips and tricks that have helped me to cope with Seasonal Affective Disorder for those of you who may also be struggling:
- Use a SAD or Light Therapy Light: This is the single most effective thing for me that makes me feel better. I purchased mine from Costco last year for about $70. I sit in front of the light for about 15-25 minutes in the morning and it alleviates most of my symptoms when I use it consistently. I start with 15 minutes at the beginning of the fall and then gradually increase the time as I need a little more in the winter. On a product note, I really enjoy this particular light as it is easy to travel with, compact and has 3 light intensities which I switch between at different times of the year (not to mention it is significantly cheaper than many of the other options!).
- Get some fresh air: Spending time outdoors is another thing that helps to lessen my SAD. I walk my dog for about 15-20 minutes each morning and this helps with giving me some endorphins, get some exercise, relieve stress, but also helps my circadian rhythm by being out in natural light.
- Get enough sleep – but not too much: A consistent quality sleep routine has also been essential for me in managing SAD. Going to bed at the same time and waking up at the same time helps your body to establish a stronger sleep-wake cycle and this can help lessen symptoms. It can be tempting to oversleep if you are struggling with SAD but over sleeping can lead to more fatigue or a disrupted sleep pattern.
- Eat well: Making sure that you are getting enough nutrition which is also really important for your mood and energy level. Make sure to stay hydrated, eat lots of fresh produce, and don’t overdo-it on caffeine. If your body has all of the other things it needs it functions better. The happier your whole body is the happier your mind will be too.
- Be gentle with yourself: There is no shame in having SAD. You aren’t dysfunctional, or broken, or weak. It is normal and okay to struggle. Many people around the world struggle with mental health challenges, you are not alone. So be kind to yourself. Prioritize finding coping strategies to help you feel better because you deserve to feel better. You are worthy of help, and getting help doesn’t make you any lesser.
For me being diagnosed with SAD was a hugely positive thing because I finally understood one of the big reasons why I felt crappy. In retrospect, I probably needlessly struggled for years but it never occurred to me that I might have SAD. Implementing these strategies has completely changed the way I experience the fall and winter for the better, and has made me feel much happier and more balanced. While it’s important to remember these aren’t cures for SAD, they allow me to be able to cope with my struggles.
I really hope that this post is helpful to those of you struggling with SAD but also to those of you who maybe didn’t know about it before. It is important that we talk about mental illness and health, and all the ways that we experience it to lessen harmful stigma and to better help those around us who are struggling. When we feel safe enough to explore how we are feeling, and are allowed to understand what we are experiencing, we are empowered to change it.