Happy October, everyone! Fall is officially here in my part of the world. Spooky season is underway!
Sweater weather is back with a vengeance. The trees are starting to don their Autumn gowns before stripping down for a long Winter’s nap. People have burnt out on pumpkin spice everything already.
I don’t precisely remember when pumpkin-flavored everything became a Fall staple, but I’ve never been a fan. Allspice (pumpkin spice) is very nasty to me, and I have difficulty understanding the fuss every year.
I don’t want to yuck your yum. Live your life, Sis, but I don’t understand. Remember when Apple was Thee Hot (girl) Autumn flavor, Apple Cinnamon if you nasty? What happened to her? I still prefer apple-flavored things over pumpkin, and I will die on this hill.
The seasons are changing, and I’m fortunate enough to live in a place that experiences seasonal shifts in weather. These shifts can happen without much warning either. Sometimes, the seasons all take turns visiting over 24-48 hours. So you could leave your house in a super cute sundress and come home to pull your footie pajamas out of the closet to shake the chill that settled on your exposed limbs. But I digress.
As much as I enjoy being able to comfortably rock my sleepers again, I am not looking forward to the changing of seasons. The days are getting shorter, the weather is getting cooler, and the way my depression is set up, things are about to kick up a notch for me.
It’s About That Time
I always have a more difficult time handling my depression during the colder months. December and January are the worst. I can kind of deal with the Fall. Cooler temps mean I want to be outside for bonfires and smores. Curling up with a hot chocolate and a good book is always an excellent choice. I have a newly acquired appreciation for Halloween that amuses me greatly. Winter, on the other hand, gets very difficult for me.
It may be the impending uneasiness of the coming holiday season. It could possibly be the severe lack of sunlight and vitamin D. For whatever reason; my depression is much harder to handle between October and February. Experts refer to this worsening of depressive symptoms as Seasonal Affective Disorder, SAD for short (ha ha ha.)
What Is It?
Major Depressive Disorder with seasonal patterns according to the DSM-5. She’s the girl of the hour.
SAD isn’t its own disorder. It is an offshoot of depression. The symptoms are the same, but people with SAD have more intense depression during the winter months. Some lucky folks even have trouble with SAD during the summer. (My condolences.) SAD can have many of the common symptoms of depression including:
- Feeling depressed most of the day, nearly every day
- Losing interest in activities you once enjoyed
- Experiencing changes in appetite or weight
- Having problems with sleep
- Feeling sluggish or agitated
- Having low energy
- Feeling hopeless or worthless
Winter SAD can also lead to:
- Oversleeping (hypersomnia)
- Overeating, particularly with a craving for carbohydrates
- Weight gain
- Social withdrawal (feeling like “hibernating”)
Summer SAD can manifest this way as well but can also throw in:
- Trouble sleeping (insomnia)
- Poor appetite, leading to weight loss
- Restlessness and agitation
- Episodes of violent behavior
(from the National Institute of Mental Health)
SAD has been linked to chemical imbalances in the brain caused by shorter daylight hours and less access to vitamin D during the Winter. Common symptoms of SAD include fatigue, even with too much sleep, and weight gain associated with overeating and carbohydrate cravings.
This gets tricky to navigate in the United States. Big, family-related holidays happen smack in the middle of the extra SAD zone, and people have access to sugary, starchy, binge-able holiday foods that aren’t as easy to find at other times of the year. I know I’m not the only one who overeats to cope with spending too much time around their relatives. Perhaps you overeat because you are still stuck being alone? The reasons add up to the same problem.
How to Cope
If you are a person that attends SAD camp in the Winter or Summer, there are things you can do to make the season a little less hellish. For one thing, seasons happen pretty regularly. You know when they are coming, and you can plan accordingly. You should have a self-care procedure in place before the seasons change. This way, you won’t have to think too hard when you start feeling like a pile of garbage. When you feel that shift, turn to your favorite self-care items and activities for comfort.
Additionally, it would be wise to consult with a mental health professional. Depression is a liar, and we have all know how convincing the whispers can be on a cold, dark night. A professional is also a helpful tool to have in your toolbox for when things get rough. They may also be able to refer you for medications or different types of therapies to help with SAD. Light therapy is a standard solution. You can buy a light therapy lamp on Amazon or get treatments from a doctor. It is also a popular option in countries that get little to no sunlight for large chunks of the year.
As always, if you are struggling, don’t suffer in silence. There are people who care about you, even if you aren’t aware of it. You are loved, and there is hope in the cold darkness. If you notice someone struggling, reach out—Check-in with your loved ones. I have a feeling the world might be in for a more solitary holiday season again this year. Things are going to get more severe before they get better in a bunch of ways. We have to work together to see the sun again. We can all thrive and survive!
Take care. Be safe. I love you.