Feeling down more than usual in these grey (or white, if you’re buried in snow) winter days? It could be “SAD.”
With two mental health books coming out next month, and the grey days of Portland still coming and going, we’re talking with Dr. Faith and Set Sytes about Seasonal Affective Disorder, AND giving away free books!
So, you think you’ve got SAD.
First: Don’t Panic.
But also, don’t ignore it.
Seasonal Affective Disorder is a type of depression that ebbs and flows with the seasons, typically causing extra depression during the winter months. This is especially common for folks with mood disorders already, women, and folks who live further from the equator.
Winter is the big SAD season, though some do experience it during summertime (me, right here, for real!), and it can often take sufferers by surprise.
Set Sytes, author of How Not to Kill Yourself, says this about his experience with SAD:
“I often find things more difficult during the Winter months (which in Britain is 11 months of the year). I get much less daylight (although I’m better than I used to be on that, when a week could go where I wouldn’t see the sun), I’m always cold and without the motivation to move to warm up, and the weather is so miserable not only do I not want to go out but I’m not happy inside too. While hot weather can have its own reasons for lack of productivity, the cold months can encourage depressive symptoms and make you more interested in curling up in a blanket than getting anything done, especially if you’re worried about heating bills. It’s hard to engage your brain and be creative and productive when you’re cold, there’s little sunlight and you’ve been sleeping in in a conscious (or unconscious) attempt to hibernate through it all.”
In This Is Your Brain on Depression (coming Dec 2018), Dr. Faith defines it loosely as “winter blues thought to be caused by lack of sunlight.”
“When my brother left sunny Texas to go away to college in Boston, his SAD was horrible. He went from thinking snow was pretty and exotic to thinking snow was some kind of evil plan from the universe to repeatedly beat him in the face. The light box our mom sent him was stupendously helpful.” – This is Your Brain on Depression: Finding Your Path To Getting Better (zine version available here)
What to do about it?
When I asked about SAD, the first thing Dr. Faith noted was that too many people ignore the recurring symptoms: “If a tooth fell out of your mouth every February, you’d see the dentist and figure out why,” Dr. Faith points out. “S.A.D. should be taken just as seriously.”
“I often wear 5 layers indoors and sometimes include scarf gloves and hat in that! And my best is 7 outdoor layers, but then I’m strange and nobody else seems to do that) means you’re warmer but don’t have to spend as much on heating (and you’re more comfortable just sitting in one spot). It also means you can move around the house and maybe god forbid open a window for a few minutes without suddenly catching hypothermia. Worrying less about cold will relax your survival skills enough to hopefully think about more creative pursuits.Also, candles, candles, candles.”
“It sucks setting alarms for yourself but sometimes it’s worth encouraging your sleeping pattern to shift not necessarily to a “normal” time frame (who decides what normal is) but at least one where you get more sunlight in the day. Even if you’re more creative at night, it helps to be able to separate each day into both day and night, otherwise it just all becomes one big murky dark abyssal pointless mess and there becomes no sense in doing something at one time to another – and when that’s how you think, you end up never doing things at any time.”