Seasonal affective disorder, or SAD, is a mental health disorder and offshoot of depression related to the changing seasons. More specifically, it is a mood disorder in people who typically have normal mental health for the majority of the year. However, during the changing of the seasons, things like reduced sunlight can have a negative effect on daily functioning.
We often forget that humans are animals when all is said and done. Many animal species experience a shift in their regular activity during winter months. Recalling middle school science class, hibernation is on the more extreme spectrum of this seasonal pattern. Unfortunately, there is no guidebook on how to modify this for modern society. Just because this feeling is normal for most people does not mean it is not just as important to seek help for these feelings. SAD can cause severe impairment to a person’s day-to-day life.
When dealing with a co-occurring disorder such as addiction, this seasonal pattern can throw off many aspects of recovery. It can be very confusing having these seemingly “out of nowhere “ feelings during the months with shorter days. However, understanding why and how this change comes about can provide mental comfort and help you work towards emotional regulation.
Symptoms of SAD
The symptoms of SAD are heavily influenced by the changing of the seasons. SAD can affect people during the winter months or the summer. People struggling with SAD will experience typical symptoms of depression. However, depending on the season in which they are experiencing SAD, they may have other specific symptoms.
Common depression symptoms experienced with SAD include:
- Feeling sad most of the day, nearly every day
- Losing interest in previously enjoyed activities
- Changes in appetite or weight
- Having problems with sleep
- Feeling sluggish or agitated
- Having low energy
- Feeling worthless or hopeless
- Having difficulty concentrating
- Thoughts of death or suicide
Specific symptoms related to winter-pattern SAD include the following:
- Weight gain
- Social withdrawal
Specific symptoms related to summer-pattern SAD include the following:
- Trouble sleeping
- Poor appetite and weight loss
- Restlessness and agitation
- Episodes of violent behavior
The Impact of SAD on Addiction
It is not uncommon for SAD to be a co-occurring condition. Because SAD can be so disorienting, individuals with this disorder may turn to substances to help them cope through the winter or summer months.
Winter is typically a time people spend indoors due to weather, especially in places that tend to get very cold and dark. Loneliness and boredom are not uncommon in these areas, and with plenty of time on their hands, people with substance use disorder (SUD) may be tempted by substances.
Many individuals that are prone to addiction have specific daily routines during recovery. Seasonal changes in weather and light can throw off these routines and make it difficult to continue in the same way. Without proper coping mechanisms for different seasons, an individual experiencing addiction might have a hard time adjusting.
Treatments and Therapy for SAD
There are many types of treatments for SAD. Speak with a mental health provider to find out what the best option for you may be. Some of the treatments used for SAD include the following.
Light Therapy for SAD
Light therapy is usually the first treatment used for SAD. This type of therapy works by using artificial light to mimic the effect of the sunnier months. Light therapy is very simple; it involves a light therapy box in which the user sits by the light for a period of time. Using light therapy helps to jumpstart our circadian rhythm and boost our mood and functioning. This type of therapy can help regulate sleep cycles as well.
SAD medication is usually the same as the medication used for depression and other mood disorders. SSRIs help to treat depressive feelings by increasing the levels of serotonin in the brain. Alone or in combination with other treatments in they can help you overcome SAD. Speaking with a mental health professional can help you discover if this is the best method for you.
Psychotherapy is a common therapy used for a variety of mental health disorders. This approach to treatment can help to ground and recenter your perception of the world. Psychotherapy typically involves actively talking with a therapist or other professionals. They talk with you about the feelings you are having and methods of emotional regulation. A licensed professional can offer different coping methods during the winter months and identify some of the triggers and negative thought patterns that might arise.
Vitamin Therapy for SAD
Some research suggests that vitamin D, the sunshine vitamin, is at decreased levels in the body during the shorter months, which can cause SAD. There is debate as to whether light therapy or vitamin therapy is more effective. However, vitamin D is thought to promote serotonin levels.
For many people with SAD and other co-occurring disorders, such as SUD, treatment or a combination of treatments can promote daily functioning and alleviate depressive feelings.
Many of the natural evolutionary patterns we have are poorly translated into our modern society. The changing of the seasons can bring on poor functioning and decreased energy levels, and these feelings can linger. Combined with social withdrawal, this pattern might tempt your addiction. It is okay to feel unsure of how to proceed through some of these feelings. We are here to help. At Destiny Recovery Center, we are here to help you understand yourself and the world around you. Our caring and compassionate team of professionals are ready to help you find long-term recovery. Call Destiny Recovery today at (909) 413-4304 to learn about our personalized treatment programs and start the best treatment program for you.