Finding Happiness in Dark Times

The days have become shorter and darker while the weather has gotten colder. The holiday season has passed and we have moved into a time of year where you may have noticed your mood beginning to shift and your behaviour reflecting this. Could it be possible that you or a loved one are experiencing the onset of Seasonal Affective Disorder?

What is Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD)

The symptoms of depression are very common during the winter months, while some people experience these during times of stress others do at certain times of the year. Seasonal Affective Disorder, otherwise know as SAD can be characterized by recurrent episodes of depression in late fall and winter, alternating with periods of normal to high mood the rest of the year. You may notice a sense of irritability, feeling of fatigue, hypersensitive to rejection, heaviness in arms or legs, as well as a change in appetite leading to weight gain. Factors that place you at risk for SAD are social withdrawal, school, work, or relationship problems, family history of mental health, and substance abuse. SAD is different from Major Depression in that you will experience depressive symptoms during a specific time of year that are not related to yearly stressors and these symptoms will end or change during a specific time of year.

Patterns of SAD

In understanding what stresses or triggers contribute to the depressive symptoms in SAD, you will be able to increase your success in preventing/treating this disorder. Symptoms of SAD usually increase during the months where daytime hours begin to decrease. For instance, in Vancouver, BC this can start in October/November and subside in April/May. However, some people’s mood may begin to decrease as early as August, while others may remain well until January. Depression symptoms in SAD are seen as mild to moderate, but in some cases can be severe. It is essential to seek support if you are experiencing any of these symptoms in order to prevent self-harm and enhance your mood.

Reaching Out

No matter how dark, long, or lost your life may seem there will always be a brighter day that lies ahead. By finding strength, hope, and courage, you can learn how to swim through the deep, cold waters of hardship and trouble. Never give up on yourself, no matter what comes to light, as the power lies within you to overcome your pain and find hope again. Involve yourself in the moment and let go of what you cannot change so that you can focus on what you can. “If you can imagine it, you can create it. If you can dream it, you can become it” is a quote by William Arthur Ward that I wholeheartedly believe in. In times of darkness reach out however you can to find light so that you can live the life you so very well deserve.

If you are going through a difficult time and can relate to the symptoms noted on the side, please speak with a loved one, your doctor, or contact a professional who has experience in this area. Friends and family members of individuals experiencing symptoms of SAD need to take a non-judgmental approach, offering support and encouraging him or her to seek help. Many of us experience a change in our mood and behaviour during the winter months, however, if you are noticing you are not enjoying the simple pleasure of life and things have become more challenging, contact me in order to see how I can help enhance your life and make living refreshing again.

Symptoms of Seasonal Affective Disorder

Irritability

Tiredness or low energy

Problems getting along with other people

Hypersensitivity to rejection

Heavy, “leaden” feeling in arms or legs

Oversleeping

Appetite changes, especially a craving for foods high in carbohydrates

Weight gain

Symptoms of Major Depression

Feeling depressed most of the day, nearly every day

Feeling hopeless or worthless

Having low energy

Losing interest in activities you once enjoyed

Having problems with sleeping

Experiencing changes in your appetite or weight

Feeling sluggish or agitated

Having difficulty concentrating

Having frequent thoughts of death or suicide

Treatment

Light Therapy

Individual Therapy – understanding patterns of your relationships, setting healthy boundaries, handling life’s problems

Group Therapy

Medication

Vitamins/Supplements

Relaxation Techniques – Mindfulness Meditation, Yoga, Tai Chi, Massage

Acupuncture

Lifestyle Changes – exercise, nutrition, sleep, social support, stress reduction

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