If you’ve noticed that during the darker days of fall and winter months, your mood changes to irritable or have feelings of sadness, you may be experiencing Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD). SAD is also referred to as seasonal depression, and while it is temporary, it can leave a huge impact on your life.

There are many reasons why individuals may experience depressive symptoms during these darker and colder months. The reduced ability to be outdoors, the tendency to be less active, and the decrease in natural light can all greatly impact mood, energy level, sleep, and activity.

You may be having more difficulty coping with normal day to day stress, perhaps you have less energy for or interest in social activities, maybe you are struggling to find ways to do things that give you pleasure, or you might be finding it more difficult to practice self-care.

You might tell yourself that it’s because you miss the warm summer breeze and balmy outdoor activities. Or, you might even feel down as winter turns to spring and summer. You feel that you are unable to experience the joy that some others do when the warmer, sunnier seasons arrive.

However, if you also notice that you don’t get enjoyment out of life (anhedonia), sleep far too much or too little, or have trouble maintaining your relationships, career, or home, it could be Seasonal Affective Disorder (abbreviated “SAD”).

SAD is commonly triggered during the fall and winter months, when the days become shorter. Some people are able to feel better through the use of antidepressant medications. For others for whom medication is either not an option or a choice, therapy can be a very helpful way to combat Seasonal Affective Disorder.

During our sessions together, you will come to understand what seasonal affective disorder truly is. We will work together to develop steps you can take to cope with the depression and then conquer it.

We’ll discuss possible underlying causes for your anxiety and depression, as well. Acknowledging that you may be struggling with seasonal depression is a huge step, and you have already taken an important step towards wellness!

Though not everyone will experience the same symptoms, the therapists at Cohesive Therapy NYC have put together a list of some of the most common:

  • Feelings of sadness and hopelessness
  • A change in appetite and developing a craving for sweet or starchy foods
  • Weight gain
  • Decreased energy level
  • Reduced physical activity
  • Fatigue
  • Difficulty concentrating
  • Irritability
  • Avoidance of social situations
  • Thoughts of suicide

While these symptoms may feel overwhelming, there are many ways to help you cope.

Stay Active

While it may feel really difficult to find the energy and motivation to exercise when you are feeling down, physical activity is one of the most effective ways to improve your mood, increase your energy, and aid your sleep. Exercise not only reduces stress and tension, but it releases those feel-good endorphins that will make you feel better overall. It can be harder to find ways to exercise when it is too cold to go outside, so you may need to get creative! Here are a few ideas:

  • Find a youtube video for a yoga, pilates, dance or a body-weight class
  • Get up and do something active (even walking laps around your home) during every commercial break when you are watching TV
  • Set a timer and stretch for 10-15 minutes
  • Do some body weight exercises that don’t require any equipment such as crunches, push ups, squats, or jumping jacks
  • Schedule a “date” with a friend to do a virtual workout together while video chatting. This can make exercising feel more fun, give you some social interaction, and hold you accountable!

Whatever it may be, even 30 minutes a few times a week can make a big difference in how you feel. 

Eat Better, Feel Better

It’s common to turn to comfort food when you’re feeling the winter blues, and occasionally indulging in a treat is completely normal and healthy.  But it is important to take notice of your eating habits and be aware if you are using food as a means of coping.

High-sugar foods may make you feel better in the moment and give you a temporary boost in energy levels and mood, but later in the day, you will notice that you instead feel more lethargic and sluggish than before.

Just like staying active, eating a well balanced and nutritious diet is going to help fuel your mind and body so that you feel more equipped to handle what you are going through.

Make Time for Pleasurable Activities

Self-care is something that can be challenging to prioritize any time of year, but it is particularly hard to focus on doing things for yourself if you are struggling with SAD.

When you are feeling down, it is easy to get out of the routine of taking care of yourself and doing things that give you joy. In addition to these factors, the colder months may have taken away some of the things you used to enjoy doing, like taking walks, getting some sunshine, eating outside at restaurants, or sitting in the park. 

While it may feel easy to resort to watching TV and movies during the winter months as your only form of “down time”, try finding a new hobby or practicing a new skill. Some things to try include cooking, knitting, reading, playing board games, or doing a craft.

You can also find pleasure in “pampering yourself”, this may include taking a bath, making your shower longer, sleeping in, or getting a massage. Make sure you are taking the time a few times a week to do something that makes you feel good, simply for that reason.

Get Support and Connect with Others

When we are feeling down, our tendency is often to withdraw and self-isolate. While this may be unintentional, it is common during the fall and winter months to engage in fewer social activities.

It is so important to connect with other people, and while there may be days when the weather deters you from going outside to actually see someone in person, you can still connect with friends or family on the phone, through social media, or by writing a letter. Make a point of connecting each week with one person you haven’t spoken to in a while.

Speak with a Therapist

If you are having difficulty managing your symptoms of SAD yourself, you may benefit from more support and guidance in how to cope. A trained therapist in cognitive behavioral therapy can help you navigate your depression and teach you coping strategies to better handle these tough months.

If you or a loved one is interested in exploring this further, contact us today to set up a free 20-minute phone consultation. We would be happy to see how we are able to help you reach your goals!

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    About the author(s)

    Karen is the founder and Clinical Director of Cohesive Therapy NYC. She earned a Masters in Social Work from New York University and has extensive training in Hypnosis, Anxiety, Cognitive Behavioral Therapy, Brainspotting, and DGBI. She is a member of the Institute of Certified Anxiety Treatment Professionals, The Rome Foundation, the National Association of Social Workers, The Crohn's and Colitis Foundation, and the American Social of Clinical Hypnosis.

    About Cohesive Therapy NYC

    At Cohesive Therapy NYC, we believe that you have an immense amount of inner strength and resilience, even if it is yet to be discovered. Cohesive Therapy NYC is a private group psychotherapy practice in New York City that focuses on treating adults who struggle with Anxiety, Trauma, Chronic Illness, and the adult impact of Childhood Emotional Neglect (CEN). Cohesive Therapy NYC therapists see clients all throughout New York State (Manhattan, Queens, Brooklyn, Bronx, Staten Island, Westchester, and statewide) using online therapy and are also available for in-person visits in their NYC offices, located at 59 East 54th Street, New York, NY 10022. We specialize in helping people who are dealing with anxiety, relationship issues, chronic illness, and digestive and adult trauma related to childhood family dynamics. We all deserve a chance to be well and have support.