If you feel depressed in response to a change in seasons you may have Seasonal Affective Disorder (or SAD). For most people, SAD begins in fall and can last through the winter. Symptoms may include the classic signs of depression, such as feelings of hopelessness/guilt, loss of interest or pleasure, sleep problems, low energy, distractibility, or thoughts of suicide. In winter, symptoms often include oversleeping, cravings for carbohydrates, weight gain, and sluggishness. And when you’re depressed or feeling blue, your mood actually affects the thoughts you have about a situation. So, you may notice these thoughts:
• I’m sad because I’m a bad person.
• I’m not a good friend because I want to be alone and never leave my house.
• I was always this sad and will be this sad for the foreseeable future.
• People always mistreat me.
• My life is not good, and it will remain this way forever.
Identifying thoughts like this and “correcting” them gently can be an effective way of taking control over your mood and enjoyment of the season, so that spiraling depression stays at bay. Here are some ways to challenge negative thoughts:
1. Remind yourself that your thoughts are driven by your mood, and your mood is driven by the sun and your biology! So, they’re just thoughts and they’re not facts.
2. Imagine other ways of understanding your negative assumptions.
3. Play the “cognitive flexibility” game and try to imagine as many different interpretations of a scenario as possible! For example, if your friend is late to pick you up, try to imagine 20 different reasons why this doesn’t make her a terrible friend!
Intentionally changing the behaviors associated with SAD—like social isolation, withdrawal from activities, and giving in to urges to oversleep and overeat— can be a powerful way to maintain your emotional health in the winter months.
Try some of these steps (a baby step at a time if need be!) to boost your enjoyment of winter this year:
1. Spend more time outside and in sunlight.
2. Stick to a consistent schedule for sleep and eating.
3. Exercise! Even only a short work, any activity can boost endorphins and reduce stress.
4. What are your favorite things to do in the winter? Plan comforting activities and routines to look forward to after the sun sets.
5. Talk to a trusted friend about what you’re feeling.
6. Consult with a mental health professional if you want to know more and feel supported. Effective treatments can include CBT, light therapy, and/or medication.
And, at the end of the day, embracing the darkness—dark nights and introspective moods—rather than wasting energy seeking sunlight and cheer, may provide you with the comfort of being at home in yourself this winter.
-Dr. Chandler Chang, Ph.D.
Founder of Therapy Lab, Inc. & Psychologist
Using evidence-based treatments and a compassionate approach, Dr. Chang offers expertise based on almost two decades of clinical experience, both in private practice and at prestigious research-oriented psychology programs, including UCLA and NYU’s Child Study Center, and an undergraduate degree from Princeton University. She earned her Ph.D. at The University of Georgia, a program renowned for its promotion of evidence-based practice and clinical research. She has a passion for incorporating science into psychological practice and a mission to train other therapists in this way while providing affordable mental health services for all. Dr. Chang is the owner of two private practices in Los Angeles, including Golden Hour Therapy and Therapy Lab. (California PSY 22092)
www.apa.org/news/press/releases/stress/2013/eating https://charlesduhigg.com/how-habits-work/ https://brainmd.com/blog/7-ways-to-boost-dopamine-focus-and-energy/