The arrival of winter each year brings around holiday cheer. But as we move beyond the tidings of joy the holiday season brings, we are met with an issue plaguing many Canadians, Seasonal Affective Disorder. It’s reported that “people with Seasonal Affective Disorder make up 10% of all depression cases”. Combine that with Doug Ford’s recent announcement of lockdown, the fear moving forward is this number will continue to rise.
What Exactly is SAD?
Seasonal Affective Disorder is otherwise known as SAD or the “winter blues”. It is a form of depression that coincides with the fall/winter seasons. Researchers believe that SAD can be caused by two things; a lack of sunlight as the days begin to get shorter and is hereditary. Sunlight plays a role in our mood as “sunlight exposure releases serotonin, in turn elevating your mood”. With the lack of exposure to sunlight, our brains produce less serotonin, putting us in a deficiency. In addition to extended hours of darkness, our bodies begin to create too much melatonin, causing us to be more lethargic and sleepy. Thus making people in northern areas more prone to SAD as daylight is shortened in the fall/winter season. SAD can also be hereditary as “13-17% who develop it have an immediate family member with the disorder”.
Noticeable Symptoms for SAD
Here are some signs to look out for if you suspect you or a loved one might have SAD…
- The ongoing feeling of sadness that extends for days to weeks at a time
- Lethargy, constantly feeling tired and having trouble sleeping
- Appetite and weight swings
- Trouble concentrating and coming to decisions
- A sense of hopelessness that affects your everyday (personal, work) life
- A feeling of worthlessness or guilt
- Extremely irritable
- Avoidance of people and activities
The Pandemics Affect on at Risk People of SAD
Women: SAD is more commonly diagnosed in women. Though the exact correlation is not known as to why women are more prone to SAD. A recent study done by CAMH points to the pandemic creating increased levels of anxiety and a sense of loneliness in women being a primary cause this year.
Young Adults: Primarily young adults are most at risk especially those with children. Depending on their economic status they can face different situations. Some have no choice but to send their children to school as they cannot afford childcare or to take time off work. While others struggle to find work-life balance as they keep their children home. Young adults without children are also impacted as they face drastic changes in education and work opportunities. These situations caused by the pandemic can exacerbate negative thoughts and feelings of worthlessness.
Children and Teens: Momentous life milestones have been replaced with e-learning and social isolation. Missed graduations, birthdays, holiday events usually celebrated with family and friends have been replaced with gatherings over a screen. This lack of socialization can amplify stress and negative feelings. Children and teens who don’t fully understand their emotions during this period are extremely susceptible.
What can you do to treat SAD?
It is important to note that SAD is diagnosed after appropriate consultation by doctors and mental health professionals.
Light Therapy: This is the most effective way of treating SAD. Using a light therapy lamp to produce artificial light, users sit near the lamp for the recommended time daily. The lamp acts as a form of artificial sunlight providing individuals with the potential sunlight they are missing. There are mild side-effects caused by light therapy such as nausea, headaches and eyestrain.
Cognitive Behaviour Therapy: This is a form of psychological treatment that involves consulting with a therapist. Done over sessions its purpose is to target negative thoughts, attitudes, behaviours and produce a healthy solution for dealing with them.
These are a few proactive measures we can take if we are experiencing a milder case of depression.
Self-Help: Start by maintaining a normal routine, by setting a structure in your life you give yourself a sense of stability. This can be as simple as setting boundaries such as bedtime, allotted work periods and personal time. Follow this with frequent exercise and a well-balanced diet. If you notice you are not getting enough out of your current diet, you can supplement with certain vitamins. Magnesium, vitamin D is reported to help reduce depression in some.
Yoga: People who practice yoga are shown to increase mindfulness in their lives. This makes yoga a great alternative if you want to pair mindfulness with exercise. The best thing is you don’t need any expensive equipment and can be done from the comfort of your home. There are many free video tutorials for beginners, so get started!
Outdoor Time: Following proper social distancing rules it is important that we still go outside! Try your best to schedule a period every day where you are outside. As mentioned prior it is sunlight that helps release serotonin which makes us happier.
Open your house: During the day open all your curtains allowing the maximum amount of natural light to enter. If possible, try to rearrange furniture so you are sitting near the windows. While doing so make sure to also clean your space! Currently, many of us work from home, cleaning your space will make you feel less cluttered. Also if you find yourself constantly sitting products such as the ones provided by Earthing help us connect to nature while at our desks.
Everything good comes in moderation. According to a study the average Canadian adult spends 1.49 hours a day on social media! That is 2 hours we can spend doing something more beneficial for ourselves. Next time you are about to pick up your phone and start scrolling try one of these activities instead: reading a book, adult colouring books, knitting, meditating, creative writing. The best thing is these activities are low cost and by the end of it you’ll have either created or learned something new!
Helping one another
Don’t wait till it’s too late, if you or a loved one is ever in crisis reach out to one of the many services the city offers. This year we are socially distancing from our families and friends, we need to make sure to check in with one another! It is imperative as a community for us to come together at this difficult time and support each other to the best of our abilities. Here at Green Schools Green Future, you can read many similar articles make sure to subscribe to our monthly newsletter.