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Getting Ahead of Seasonal Affective Disorder

Written By: Girl Tyler

November is the kickoff of your favorite holiday movie marathons, a time for feasting and giving thanks with family while also bringing out moodiness and an unpleasant side that you’re constantly fighting to suppress. On top of everything, you can’t seem to get a good night’s rest or on the flip side, those depression naps are hitting more than they should. How can the happiest time of the year also be the saddest although you’re not experiencing an actual crisis? You’re probably SAD.

Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD), or winter blues, is a form of depression that impacts millions each year. As the colder temperatures creep in and the days get shorter, people suddenly feel changes in their mood throughout the fall and winter. In short, your circadian rhythm (or internal clock) is out of whack thanks to the reduction in sunlight. People living in northern areas with harsh winter conditions are more impacted than individuals living in Southern states. Women are more likely to experience SAD symptoms than men. What feels like seasonal moodiness can easily become irritability, hopelessness, and a loss of interest in the activities you once enjoyed.

I spoke with Patience Riley, a writer, speaker, and licensed mental health therapist, who provides support and tools for women throughout their wellness journey. Although most people experience SAD symptoms during the winter months and notice a return to normalcy once the weather warms up, Riley says a small percentage also face it during the spring and summer. She notes that sudden sleep issues are a key indicator that winter blues are creeping in.

“[Sleep] It affects our mood, behaviors, and overall mental state. Sleep issues may look like having difficulty falling asleep, tossing and turning at night, or sleeping too much.”

Other signs of SAD include feeling sluggish, changes in appetite, difficulty concentrating on everyday tasks, or in some cases, thoughts of death or suicide. Avoid isolation and get outside as much as you can. A walk in the park or even a video chat with your favorite people can significantly shift your mood. The key is to avoid isolation, which can be challenging because of COVID. Simple changes to your routine can help you navigate SAD. Above all prioritize activities that bring you joy.

“Those who experience SAD in colder months may find it easier to hibernate and indulge in comfort foods. Moving your body and eating nutritious meals can improve your mental health. At-home workouts, indoor tracks, gym trips, brunch dates with girlfriends, or a girls’ night in can get you moving and eating well,” Riley said.

You don’t have to suffer in silence. SAD is more common than you think. There are countless communities available to you and resources out there to provide a positive outlook on your life and future. Riley suggests Therapy for Black Girls, Black Female Therapists, and Melanated Mental Health, as directories to search for a therapist. For low-cost and free therapy resources, she recommended the Open Path Collective, DRK Beauty Healing, and the Loveland Foundation.

“If you're experiencing SAD during the winter months in addition to talk therapy you can speak with your medical provider about exploring light exposure therapy or medication,” Riley says.

Light therapy mimics natural sunlight. Researchers say a "light box," which has bulbs brighter than the lights in your home, can trigger a chemical change in your brain, helping to ease SAD symptoms. The Mayo Clinic suggests 20-30 minutes of light box use each day within the first hour of waking up. (For people who have experienced eye problems, it is recommended that you first consult your healthcare provider.) Light therapy lamps are available for purchase online.

Most people only experience mild symptoms and can quickly bounce back while others may suffer in silence. Riley says supporting your friends who have mental health challenges is most crucial this time of year.

“Even if she doesn't seem like her typical self, continue to check in with her regularly, plan a girls' night, extend her grace, and if needed, research therapists for her,” Riley said. “Your support is more valuable and important than you may think.”

SAD affects both adults and children. Riley also runs WHOA MAMA, a digital platform and "safe space to embrace the good, bad, and even the ugly sides of motherhood.” She says children tend to appear more sensitive than usual, experience sleep issues, isolate themselves from friends, and have changes in their appetite, when SAD settles in.

“If you think your child may be experiencing SAD, have an open and age-appropriate conversation with them in addition to spending more quality time doing low impact activities (watching a movie, painting, or reading), getting homework help, making sure they have a nutritious diet, and seeking professional help, if needed.”

As you head into 2022, Riley stresses the importance of prioritizing your mental health, year-round.

“When you're feeling mentally well this is the perfect time to create a blueprint outlining your go-to activities, coping skills, and support persons. Once created, keep this outline aka your self-care plan somewhere handy like your journal, nightstand, or office. Check it out throughout the year to hold yourself accountable and update,” she recommends.“A month prior to the season change ramp up your care activities to counteract the upcoming changes to your mental health. If any of your activities are exclusive to a specific season, remix it. For instance, if you love outdoor picnics, recreate the scene indoors with your basket, blanket, food, and drinks by a well-lit window.”

Stay connected with Rileyon social media. You can find her @whoamama_blog on Facebook and Instagram

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