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Navigating Through Seasonal Blues: Understanding Seasonal Affective Disorder

As the days grow shorter and the temperatures drop, many people find themselves experiencing changes in mood and energy levels. For some, these seasonal shifts can lead to a condition known as Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD). This is a  form of depression that typically occurs during the fall and winter months when there is less natural sunlight. In this blog post, we’ll dive into the nuances of Seasonal Affective Disorder and explore different wellness tips to help you navigate the winter blues.

What is Seasonal Affective Disorder?

Seasonal Affective Disorder is a type of depression that follows a seasonal pattern, with symptoms recurring at specific times of the year. While it can occur in the spring or early summer, it is more common during the fall and winter. The limited exposure to sunlight during this time is believed to play a crucial role in triggering the disorder.

Symptoms of (SAD) may include:

  • Persistent feelings of sadness or hopelessness
  • Low energy levels and fatigue
  • Difficulty concentrating
  • Changes in sleep patterns, such as oversleeping or insomnia
  • Weight gain or loss
  • Loss of interest in activities once enjoyed

Low Levels Of Vitamin D Can Increase Your Risks of Seasonal Affective Disorder:

Vitamin D is often known as the “sunshine vitamin,” because our body produces it when our skin is exposed to UV light. Unfortunately, many Midwesterners head indoors once the temperature drops, which greatly decreases their daily dose of vitamin D.

A new study by the University of Georgia linked low vitamin D levels with a greater risk of SAD, or seasonal affective disorder (a type of depression affecting up to 10% of the US population through the fall and winter months).

The onset of SAD commonly occurs in early adulthood, and 3 out of 4 individuals with it are women.  Light therapy, antidepressants, or a combination of both have been used to treat SAD.  

If you suspect you are not getting enough vitamin D, it is worth discussing with your provider. Or make a point of bundling up and getting outside each day, even if it’s just for a short while.

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SAD Disorder in People of Color:

Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD) can affect people of all races and ethnicities, including people of color. While it’s often associated with the colder months and reduced sunlight, it’s important to recognize that SAD can manifest in various ways.

Factors such as cultural background, geographical location, and individual experiences can contribute to how SAD is expressed. For instance, someone from a region with less sunlight during winter might have a different experience than someone from a sunnier climate.

Acknowledging and understanding the diversity of experiences with SAD is crucial for providing effective support and treatment. If you or someone you know is dealing with SAD, it’s always a good idea to consult with a healthcare professional who can provide personalized guidance and solutions.

While SAD affects more than 10 million Americans annually, the disorder affects women four times more than men. More than 500,000 Americans are hospitalized every year because of the condition. 

“Researchers believe SAD may have disparate effects on Black Americans because of how depression generally presents itself in Black communities, and because vitamin D deficiency is most prevalent among Black people in America. In the United States, Black and Latino people are more likely to be at risk for depression than white people, according to a 2018 study that included more than 12,000 participants from 2005 to 2012. The study attempted to account for historical drivers of depression in Black communities, including chronic stress due to racism and economic inequality. Even when considered, Black participants were still more likely to be at risk for depression, the study concluded.” Capital B News

 Wellness Tips to Help Combat Seasonal Affective Disorder:
  • Light Therapy: Increasing exposure to light can be a game-changer for individuals with SAD. Light therapy involves sitting in front of a light box that mimics natural sunlight. Spending 20-30 minutes in front of the light box each day, especially in the morning, can help regulate mood and improve energy levels.
  • Embrace the Outdoors: Even on chilly days, exposure to natural light can have positive effects. Take a short walk, go for a hike, or simply spend time in a nearby park. Fresh air and sunlight can do wonders for your mental well-being.
  • Regular Exercise: Physical activity has been proven to alleviate symptoms of depression, including SAD. Incorporate regular exercise into your routine, whether it’s a gym session, a home workout, or a fun outdoor activity. Exercise releases endorphins, which are natural mood lifters.
  • Mindfulness and Meditation: Practices such as mindfulness and meditation can help manage stress and improve overall mental health. Dedicate time each day to relax your mind, whether through guided meditation, deep breathing exercises, or yoga.
  • Maintain a Healthy Diet: Be mindful of your eating habits, as it can impact your mood and energy levels. Include a variety of nutrient-rich foods in your diet and consider consulting a nutritionist for personalized advice. Omega-3 fatty acids, found in fish, flaxseeds, and walnuts, may have mood-stabilizing effects.
  • Social Connection: Maintain strong social connections with friends and family. Even if the winter weather makes outdoor activities challenging, find ways to stay connected through virtual means. Social support is crucial for emotional well-being.
  • Create a Cozy Environment: Make your living space a warm and inviting haven. Add soft blankets, warm lighting, and decor that brings you joy. Creating a cozy atmosphere can positively impact your mood and make the winter months more enjoyable.

Seasonal Affective Disorder is a real and challenging condition, but with proactive steps and a focus on overall wellness, individuals can manage its symptoms effectively. By incorporating light therapy, outdoor activities, regular exercise, mindfulness practices, a healthy diet, social connections, and a cozy environment into your routine, you can navigate the winter blues and embrace the season with a positive mindset. Remember, seeking professional help is always an option, and there is support available for those who need it.

Sources: Mayo Clinic (What is SAD), “What Self Care Can I Do For Seasonal Affective Disorder”, Meridian Psychiatric Partners ” 6 ways to help manage seasonal affective disorder”


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