• Mychelle Williams

Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD)

While depression is more that just sadness, SAD is a type of depression that people can experience with the changing of seasons, namely during the fall and winter seasons. The National Institute of Mental Health does an excellent job at outlining signs and symptoms, risk factors, and well as treatment and therapies that may help someone navigate those symptoms.

Before we get into what is suggested to help, let us look at a hypothesis about what may also contribute to feelings of depression to get on the same page. This one is shared by Nikolai A Shevchuk:

"depression may be caused by the convergence of two factors: (A) A lifestyle that lacks certain

physiological stressors that have been experienced by primates through millions of years of

evolution, such as brief changes in body temperature (e.g. cold swim), and this lack of "thermal

exercise" may cause inadequate functioning of the brain. (B) Genetic makeup that predisposes an

individual to be affected by the above condition more seriously than other people."

Translation: early human's bodies were exposed to temperature conditions that may have had salubrious effects on the brain and to cold showers could produce similar effects for us.

This also led me to wonder about the effect that swimming has on mental health. According to Anxiety UK, swimming can be effective for stress relief, improved cardiovascular health, improved blood flow in the brain, improved sleeping patterns and you guessed it, lower symptoms of depression and anxiety. So if you like to swim, or are interested in swimming, you have a lot of great benefits in this activity.

I would like to add to what may contribute to feelings of depression. Capitalism, racism, police brutality, the UNjustice system, sexism, homophobia, biphobia, transphobia, fatphobia, exploitative labor practices, disproportionate wage gaps, lack of research into autoimmune diseases, food deserts, discriminatory practices in the medical and education fields, generational trauma and the lack of investment in emotional health in general plays a HUGE factor in to why so many people, especially those with marginalized identities experience symptoms of depression at least once in their lifetime.

Back to SAD, so during the fall and winter months, people in the northern part of the United States experience less and less sun light and it can really do a number on our mood, our sleeping patterns, motivation and appetite to name a few. As a therapist that practices from a holistic lens and who also navigates depression, I was pleased to see that the NIMH listed light therapy as an option! There are a variety of lamps that mimic the bright outdoor light that you can sit near leisurely or while you work. The idea is that you turn it on during times that you would normally experience sunlight, at sunrise and during sunsets, and in dark rooms or offices.

Other recommendations for navigating SAD or any depressive symptoms during the fall and winter months:

  1. Try making a connection with someone who lives internationally, or perhaps in the west or southern coasts for a video chat. Seeing the sun in their background will give you a chance to experience brightness for a little while as it begins to get dark where you are.

  2. Set up a morning routine that allows you practice gratitude. Gratitude is a great tool for mental wellness. It is not a cure all but it is an intentional practice to shift our minds toward the abundance that exist in our life despite what isn't present or working. For reference, gratitude is the practice of being thankful for what you have and regarding it as enough.

  3. Take an energizing shower. Cleansing yourself can feel nearly impossible on some days while navigating depressive symptoms, so when you do get to cleanse your body, that in it of itself can be mood shifting. Now to take it to another level, I would like to introduce cold showers. It is believed that taking a shower or I would venture to suggest washing your face with contrasting hot and cold water can send signals through your body that produce mood enhancing effects (just as Shevchuk hypothesized in paragraph 2). At the very least it is GROUNDING and a little fun to be able to play around a bit if you can. While some research have guidelines for how cold the water may need to be to produce the desired effect, I STRONGLY suggest doing what feels comfortable for you and your body.

  4. Try eating foods that feel really good for your body. I have no specifics here because your body is unique to you. But to get started I suggest listening to your body, perhaps keeping a journal of what made your body feel pleasant and which foods made it feel pain or discomfort. People will have their opinions on what you "should" be eating, how often and at what quantities, but please please do what actually feels good to you and honor your body.

  5. Do you garden? If you dont this may be a lovely way to enhance your mood and wellbeing. Besides bringing oxygen to your space, plants can be visually pleasing, and they teach us a lot about being exactly who you are and they hold us accountable.

  6. Light therapy recommendations: 1. Hatch Restore Lamp, 2. Tao Tronics UV Free Lamp

  7. Tinctures: tinctures are typically plants that are dissolved in a type of alcohol to concentrate the proposed effects. You can consume it by putting the recommended amount of drops in water, juice, or tea (not sure about coffee). Suggested tincture for depression are: St. Johns Wort,

In conclusion, if the changing of the seasons impact your mood, if you think you experience seasonal depression, if you actually have been diagnosed with depression, I see you and I believe in you. These are just suggestions to assist you as you navigate the symptoms that you may experience, they do not replace working with a mental health professional nor the intentional actions that you engage in on the day to day to cope. Your symptoms do not define you. You are more than enough.

This article has links to articles reference and to the products that have been mentioned. I may be eligible for commission from any purchases made from these links, and because of this I have either tried them myself or selected the products with the best history of positive reviews. Thank you for reading.

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