The change of the seasons often brings anticipation of exciting traditions or upcoming events. For many people, however, it also brings significant shifts in mood and motivation. Seasonal affective disorder affects many people, and if you always seem to be sadder around certain times of the year, you may be one of them. Here are a few tips for maintaining good mental health if you suspect you are experiencing SAD.
Pay Attention to Changes in Behavior and Mood
One of the trickiest things about SAD is that sometimes people don't know they are experiencing it. They may just think they're in a bad mood or something is wrong with them physically. Additionally, many of the symptoms may seem mild at first. Noticing small changes, though, can be a crucial part of getting the help you need before it gets out of hand.
It is important to know what to look for, especially if you have already been diagnosed with anxiety or depression. Talk to your doctor if you see an increase in the frequency of depressive episodes or other common behavioral symptoms of SAD:
- Significant increase or decrease in sleep
- Appetite changes
- Weight gain or loss
- Excessive irritability
- Lower energy levels
Maintain Healthy Habits
When you don't feel quite like yourself, it's tempting to curl up with a blanket on the couch and either sleep or watch your favorite mind-numbing show. This can be the start of a perfect weekend afternoon, but if it becomes a daily habit, it is often a telltale sign of a real problem. If your symptoms are still mild, maintaining the healthy habits you have during the rest of the year may be enough to get you out of a seasonal funk.
Get up and move for at least ten minutes. If leaving the house seems too overwhelming, there are plenty of things you can do inside, such as jumping jacks, running in place or a few sets of dumbbell lifts. Of course, you also want to make sure you are eating nourishing food and drinking enough water.
Those who experience SAD during the fall and winter often notice an increase in symptoms when the days start getting shorter. This is simply because there is less sunlight. Make an effort to take a brisk walk outside at least once a day. If this is not feasible, consider purchasing a SAD lamp to compensate for the loss of light.
Look for Ways To Lower Stress
Many people find November and December more stressful than any other time of the year. After all, in addition to your usual schedule of work, school, church and family responsibilities, you are likely adding other gatherings to the calendar. You may even be in charge of providing meals or play an integral role in the program at these events. It's likely you agreed to do so because you genuinely enjoy them and want to help out.
The suggestion that you attempt to lower stress during the holidays may seem like a fantasy, but it is possible. In fact, you may find you enjoy the season more when you take a few items off your plate. Pick two or three activities you and your family find particularly meaningful, and focus your efforts on them. Giving yourself the time and space to relax rather than filling up every spare moment can help you fight the symptoms of SAD.
While SAD is common, it doesn't have to become debilitating. The key is catching it early rather than suffering in silence, hoping it will go away. If you notice any mood or behavioral changes or would simply like more information, talk to your doctor about treatment and symptom management options.