A Season of Darkness

By:  Nikki Rashes

It happens every year like clockwork. The days get shorter and the air gets colder. The leaves change colors and then the trees become bare. Warm walks in the sun turn to hayrides under the moon and, finally, to snow falling from a dark and dreary sky. Many welcome the turn of seasons as a pleasant change from the heat of summer but others look at it as the most difficult time of the year. Beginning in the fall and continuing through the winter, it is the season of SAD.

Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD) may look like laziness because it can manifest as increased sleep, withdrawal from other people, or chronic fatigue. It is a type of depression that rears its head during fall and winter months. While the exact causes of SAD are not known, it is agreed by most that it is a condition having to do with the amount of sunlight emitted during the winter months. Sunlight, and its byproduct, Serotonin, impact anxiety, depression and sadness.

How then, as someone who struggles with Seasonal Affective Disorder, can I still say fall is my favorite time of year? It is like any mental health condition; with proper symptom management we can live with SAD without suffering from SAD. The apple cider can still taste sweet and the cozy evenings in front of the fireplace can still bring joy.

Silvi Saxena, MSW, LSW, CCTP, OSW-C, wrote of several symptom management techniques in her article, “Seasonal Affective Disorder: The Silent Season”. I have listed them below:

  1. Physical exercise
  2. Maintain structured activities and daily routines
  3. Keep a bedtime routine
  4. Eat well
  5. Journaling or other artistic outlets
  6. Light Therapy (also referred to as phototherapy)
  7. Psychotherapy
  8. Medications such as anti-depressants

I have tried all eight of these methods at different points in time and found every one helpful in its own way. Currently, a structured routine, consistent sleep and wake times and light therapy are the tricks I use. I encourage you to seek out the methods of symptom-management that work best for you and to use them consistently. As the dark days of winter approach, your mood does not need to fall with the snow. By practicing self-care techniques*, you can help yourself beat the winter blues.

(*It is recommended that you speak to a health care professional prior to starting any mental health symptom-management regimen.)

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