While this shift in seasons can bring about nostalgia and excitement for some, others may find themselves grappling with a less welcome companion: seasonal affective disorder (SAD), often called seasonal depression. In this blog post, we will explore SAD and three evidence-based ways to support your mental health as we head into the fall season.
Understanding Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD):
Seasonal Affective Disorder, or SAD, is a type of depression that typically occurs during specific seasons, most commonly in the fall and winter months. It is believed to be linked to reduced exposure to natural light, which can disrupt the body's internal clock and lead to a range of symptoms, including:
Persistent Sadness: Feelings of sadness, hopelessness, and low energy that persist throughout the season.
Changes in Sleep Patterns: Oversleeping or struggling to get enough restorative sleep can be a common symptom.
Weight Gain: Increased appetite, particularly for carbohydrates, leading to weight gain.
Loss of Interest: Reduced interest in activities that were once enjoyable.
Difficulty Concentrating: Struggles with focus, making decisions, and completing tasks.
Three Ways to Support Your Mental Health Heading Into Fall:
One of the most effective treatments for SAD is light therapy, also known as phototherapy. This therapy involves exposure to a special lightbox that mimics natural sunlight. The idea is to help regulate your body's internal clock and alleviate depressive symptoms. The National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH) recommends using a lightbox that emits 10,000 lux of cool-white fluorescent light for about 20-60 minutes each morning. However, it's essential to consult a healthcare professional before starting light therapy to determine the right treatment plan for you.
Physical activity has been shown to be a powerful mood booster. Engaging in regular exercise can help combat the lethargy and low energy associated with SAD. The Mayo Clinic suggests incorporating at least 150 minutes of moderate aerobic activity or 75 minutes of vigorous aerobic activity per week, along with strength training exercises, to reap the mental health benefits. Exercise releases endorphins, which are natural mood lifters, and it can also improve sleep quality.
Mindfulness and Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT):
Mindfulness practices and CBT can be valuable tools in managing SAD symptoms. Mindfulness involves staying present and non-judgmentally aware of your thoughts, feelings, and surroundings. It can help reduce stress and enhance emotional regulation. Additionally, cognitive behavioral therapy, whether delivered by a therapist or through self-help resources, can help reframe negative thought patterns and develop coping strategies for the challenges of the season.
As the end of summer approaches and the specter of seasonal depression looms, it's essential to take proactive steps to support your mental health. Understanding what seasonal affective disorder is and how it can affect you is the first step toward seeking the help you may need. Whether through light therapy, regular exercise, or mindfulness practices, there are effective ways to combat the symptoms of SAD and transition into the fall season with a sense of well-being. Remember that reaching out to a mental health professional can provide tailored guidance and support as you navigate this seasonal challenge.