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Suffering from SAD
As the storms started last week, the sky darkened, and so did my feelings. I was feeling pretty good over the summer, as I usually do, but come September, I start feeling depressed.
I used to think that it was just because I didn't want to go back to school. I've been working for three years now, and I still find that come the fall, I start getting really depressed. Last year I was even having some thoughts of ending it all. As spring came, though, I kind of pulled out of it.
Summer was great, and now it's starting again. I just can't have another winter like last year. Help.
As you have only mentioned, fall/winter as difficult time, and not any other issues in your life that might cause depression, I'm going to presume that the fall/winter is the issue.
It may be that you are one of the many people who are affected by something called SAD, or Seasonal Affective Disorder. In a nutshell, you experience a depression in the fall/winter, and not at other times.
SAD is a recognized condition that is more common in women, but often more severe in men. It is also more common in our northern hemispheres, where there is less sunshine in the winter.
SAD seems to be related to sunshine, so we, on the west coast, are more likely to experience it than our neighbours in Alberta with their clear, sunny, freezing cold, winter days.
It seems that persons who have blood relatives who struggle with depression or bipolar disorder are more likely to experience SAD than those without that family history. But anyone can experience SAD.
To diagnose SAD, it is necessary to first eliminate the possibility of any other illness, so a trip to the doctor may be helpful.
Your doctor will likely ask questions to determine that this depression has occurred at least twice in the fall/winter, with no other depression symptoms in between, and that there is no other explanation for the change in your mood.
The usual symptoms for SAD can include this feeling of depression and hopelessness. As well, it's not uncommon to experience anxiety, poor concentration, a lack of energy, with a feeling of such heaviness in the limbs that it's hard to move.
Often people notice that they are not connecting with their friends, family, and usual activities in the winter. They may want to sleep more than they need, crave high-carbohydrate foods and find they gain weight over the winter.
Come spring, these things reduce and are eliminated, until the next fall.
It is pretty gloomy, but there are things one can do to really improve the situation.
The first of these is to recognize that SAD seems to be related to sunlight, so getting outside is really helpful. Even if the sky is overcast, it tends to be brighter outside than inside, so getting outside is a really good thing — every day. A regular drive up the mountain, above the cloud line, will also make a difference.
SAD Lights are high-intensity lights (your regular light bulbs will simply not do the job) that one can sit under for up to half an hour a day, which can dramatically reduce SAD. These are available locally at places which sell/supply medical equipment.
Keep moving, even though it is hard. The more one can raise their heart rate through movement, the more mood seems to improve. Every day is good. Three times a week for at least 20 minutes will start making a difference.
Eat well and regularly. It helps to regulate blood sugar levels, and with that mood. It also helps to address the tendency of SAD to get you to eat the high-carb foods rather than a balanced diet.
Stay connected with friends, family, activities and routines, including bedtime. It helps.
As well as these things, be aware that you are looking to make a difference to how you make your way through this winter. Rather than expecting that everything will be great, look for improvements from last year and build on them each year.
Many people also benefit from working with a registered clinical counsellor to help cope with the thoughts and feelings related to SAD. Here's hoping you have a better winter.
If you wish to ask a question of the counsellors, for a response in future columns, e-mail them at email@example.com. Consult a Counsellor is provided by registered clinical counsellors Nancy Bock, Diane Davies Leslie Wells, Andrew Lochhead and Sara-Lynn Kang at pacific therapy & consulting inc. It appears every second Thursday in the Record.