As the seasons change, so can our mental state. For many, the transition from summer to fall and eventually to winter brings more than just a drop in temperature; it can also usher in a cloud of emotional distress. If you've ever felt this way, you're not alone. Let's delve into a condition known as Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD) and its relationship with anxiety.
What is Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD)?
Seasonal Affective Disorder, aptly abbreviated as SAD, is a type of depression that comes and goes with the seasons. Most commonly, it starts in the late fall and early winter and goes away during the spring and summer. However, a less common type of SAD, known as summer-onset depression, begins in the late spring or early summer. It's not just "winter blues"; it's a recognized mental health condition that can have a significant impact on one's daily life.
How does anxiety and Seasonal Affective Disorder relate to each other?
Anxiety and SAD are intertwined with each other, sometimes making it hard to distinguish one from the other. While they are distinct conditions, they often coexist. The reduced sunlight in the fall and most certainly in the winter can lead to a drop in serotonin, a neurotransmitter that affects mood. Lower levels of serotonin are linked to feelings of depression and, interestingly, anxiety. Moreover, the change in season can disrupt the balance of the body's internal clock (circadian rhythm), leading to feelings of depression and, for some, heightened anxiety.
What are the symptoms of Seasonal Affective Disorder?
Symptoms of SAD can vary depending on the severity and the individual, but they often include:
Feeling depressed most of the day, nearly every day
Losing interest in activities you once enjoyed
Having low energy or feeling sluggish
Experiencing changes in appetite or weight
Having difficulty sleeping or oversleeping
Feeling agitated or even anxious
Having difficulty concentrating
Feeling hopeless, worthless, or guilty
Having frequent thoughts of death or suicide
Why does Seasonal Affective Disorder impact my anxiety and stress?
The biological changes that occur in our bodies due to SAD can exacerbate anxiety. The decrease in sunlight can lead to a drop in serotonin levels, which, as mentioned earlier, plays a role in mood regulation and can influence anxiety levels. Additionally, the disruption of the circadian rhythm can affect sleep patterns, and poor sleep can amplify feelings of anxiety and stress. Even if you are not an outdoorsy person, the sunlight plays a big role in our day to day lives.
What are things I can do to decrease symptoms of Seasonal Affective Disorder and anxiety?
Here are a few things that can help, maybe all help, or maybe just a few.
Light Therapy: Using a light box that mimics natural sunlight can help regulate your body's internal clock and boost serotonin levels.
Stay Active: Regular physical activity can help counteract the effects of SAD and reduce anxiety.
Maintain a Regular Sleep Schedule: Go to bed and wake up at the same time every day to help regulate your circadian rhythm.
Stay Connected: Engage in social activities, even if it's just a video or phone call. Social connections can boost your mood.
Mindfulness and Meditation: Techniques like deep breathing, meditation, and yoga can help calm the mind and reduce anxiety. It helps us focus our attention elsewhere and bring a purposeful calmness to your day.
Seek Professional Help: If your symptoms are severe, it might be time to see a therapist or counselor.
How can a therapist help?
A therapist can provide a safe space for you to express your feelings and offer coping strategies tailored to your needs. Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT) has been shown to be effective in treating SAD. A therapist can help you identify negative thought patterns and replace them with positive ones. Moreover, they can offer guidance on relaxation techniques, provide support, and even recommend medication if deemed necessary.
As the daylight gets shorter and shorter and is challenging for many, understanding the relationship between SAD and anxiety is the first step towards managing it. Seeking help is a sign of strength, not weakness. If you or someone you know is struggling, reach out. There's always hope, even in the coolest days.
Looking for a therapist to help with anxiety and Seasonal Affective Disorder? Discover the convenience of online therapy with Better Minds Counseling & Services. We specialize in assisting adults with anxiety through our virtual mental health solutions. Brittany Webb, LPC CCATP, a certified clinical anxiety treatment expert and licensed professional counselor, is ready to help you break free from the chains of overthinking. Schedule your free introductory session with her today!
Blog Disclaimer - These posts are not meant to treat, diagnose, or serve as a replacement for therapy. If you or someone you know is experiencing a mental health emergency, please contact your local crisis center or dial 911. Here are more immediate resources as well.