Bright ideas: Curb gloomy days with these tips and tricks

November 12, 2021  //  FOUND IN: Updates & Resources, ,

Daylight Saving Time has come and gone, and likely many of you have talked about how early it has been getting dark this week. But don’t worry, spring officially starts in only 128 days!

On a serious note, shorter days and longer nights bring with them real, tangible mental health concerns. And that often comes in the form of seasonal affective disorder or SAD.

To close out Wellness Week, here’s a closer look at SAD and what you can do to combat it.

What is SAD?

Seasonal affective disorder, or seasonal depression, is a type of depression that occurs during the same season each year. You may have SAD if you felt depressed during recent winters but felt much better in spring and summer. 

Anyone can be affected by SAD, but research shows that it’s more common in:

  • Women
  • People who live far from the equator, where winter daylight hours are very short. (Sorry, Michiganders).
  • People between the ages of 15 and 55. The risk of getting SAD for the first time goes down as you age.
  • People who have a close relative with SAD.

Symptoms include:

  • Feeling sad, grumpy, moody or anxious
  • Lost interest in usual activities
  • Withdrawal from social interaction
  • Eating more and craving carbohydrates, such as bread and pasta.
  • Gaining weight
  • Sleeping more but still feeling tired
  • Having trouble concentrating

What can you do to manage SAD?

There are steps every employee can take to help manage their SAD.

The first is understanding — and accepting — what you are going through. Experiencing symptoms does not mean you are weak or unstable. In fact, SAD is so common during the winter because the lack of sunlight can cause problems with a brain chemical called serotonin, which can affect moods.

If you or someone you know is expressing unusual behavior, be sure to know the symptoms of seasonal depression and consult with your doctor.

On top of that consultation, take some simple measures to try and mitigate the effects of seasonal depression:

  • Get some exercise: Any activity that raises your heart rate will help you have more energy and calm your mind. Exercise such as walking, swimming or riding a stationary bike are great ways to get your body moving. If there is sunlight outdoors, try talking a walk outside and record if your mood changes. If it’s dark or too cold, indoor exercise should still help.
  • Phone a friend: In the fall/winter months, most people “hibernate.” Meaning they work or go to school, then spend most of the rest of the time back home. The weather can prevent social interactions such as going to the park or hanging out with friends (especially during the pandemic). So try and avoid isolation by reaching out via phone, Facetime or other forms of technology.
  • Try light therapy: Artificial lights that mimic natural, outdoor light can be helpful in the winter when it comes to treating seasonal affective disorder.
  • Vitamin D: Researchers have found some connections between SAD and low levels of Vitamin D.

Your doctor may also prescribe medication or therapy to treat SAD, but those steps should be taken with physician consent and direction.

Resources at Michigan Medicine 

If you or someone you know is dealing with seasonal depression, the organization provides several resources and tools that are completely confidential. It is important to find the resource that aligns with your needs.

Among them are:

The Depression Center Toolkit

Office of Counseling and Workplace Resilience

MHealthy

The Wellness Office

Michigan Health Blog – Breathing techniques when feeling anxious 

Learn even more about SAD, along with other mental health challenges, on the latest episode of The Wrap employee podcast. Kelcey Stratton, Ph.D., resilience and well-being program manager, joined the show to offer tips and resources to Michigan Medicine team members. Check it out via the YouTube video below or find an audio-only version by clicking here.

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