Seattle is an exciting place to live, but being in the northwest, we start to notice a pretty drastic change in seasons and with that, signs of Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD). The summer months and sunny days can feel like they are few and far between. The rain becomes more persistent and by November, it is more like a daily occurrence.
Now, don’t get us wrong, Seattle is absolutely beautiful in the fall and some would even go as far to say that it is the best time to visit. But for others, the fall season can start to take a toll on their mental health.
What Is Seasonal Affective Disorder?
There is a lot of controversy around Seasonal Affective Disorder and if it is actually real, but so many people experience it, especially here in Seattle, that we think it is worth mentioning.
Whether you experience the ‘Winter Blues’ or a more serious version like SAD, seasonal changes in your mood are not something to ignore or take lightly.
Traditionally, Seasonal Affective Disorder begins to take its toll in the fall months and continues on throughout the winter. For Seattle and other areas of the Northwest, this can mean most of the year. If you notice that you are experiencing symptoms around the same time each year, you are likely responding to the seasons.
It is worth mentioning that SAD can occur in the opposite spectrum, appearing in the spring and summer, but this is much less common so we are going to focus on the winter season.
So Why does this happen?
Scientists believe that there is a link between the colder months’ lack of sunlight and our ability to produce serotonin, though melatonin and our own circadian rhythm also might play a role.
When the weather starts to take a turn, we tend to spend a lot more time indoors and are missing out on valuable sunlight. In Seattle, this is especially true between the rain and colder temperatures. The natural sunlight plays a role in serotonin production in our brains. When we miss out on the sun, our serotonin levels become sparse.
Reduction in serotonin means that we become more vulnerable to depressive thoughts and gloomy moods. It could be that we are already susceptible to depressive thoughts, but the darker seasons emphasize them even more.
What about our circadian rhythm?
While serotonin might be a huge contributor, it’s not necessarily the only one. As we mentioned earlier, our circadian rhythm also matters.
Being in the far stretches of the northwest, Seattle days start becoming shorter and the nights much longer. This phenomenon, though completely natural, starts to deceive our internal senses.
Our bodies rely on routine and when the days start becoming shorter, it can throw off our biological clock. We might have trouble sleeping, or when we do sleep, it might not be as effective. When this balance gets upset, we can start experiencing the symptoms of depression.
Know When It’s Getting Serious
One thing we need to be careful of is downplaying the severity of our symptoms. Just because they may appear seasonal, it does not mean that they should be ignored. It is so easy to place blame on the cold or the lack of light, but if you are feeling seriously depressed or have suicidal thoughts, don’t be afraid to reach out for help.
If symptoms are severe, or maybe you notice that they don’t let up with the change in seasons, it could be time to get professional help.
Mindful Therapy Group has mental health providers that specialize in things like seasonal depression and the best part is that we offer services in many different parts of Seattle so you’ll be sure to find help near you. Mountlake Terrace, Northgate, Fremont, and Southcenter are all of our current locations.
If your SAD is not that severe and you don’t feel the need to get professional help, there are steps you can take to help you feel better.
When the weather starts to take a turn and we feel our mood start to decline, it is very tempting to start to isolate ourselves. We don’t feel like going out and all we want to do is be alone. Yes, there is a time and a place for giving ourselves some space, but sometimes when we are trying to combat the Winter Blues, the best thing for us is to socialize.
Maybe we invite some friends over, maybe we embrace some outdoor winter activities, or maybe, we take a trip to a warmer climate. When we give ourselves a fun activity to look forward to, we can distract ourselves from the depressing thoughts that usually take hold.
Let There Be Light
Sometimes, light can be a huge solution to our seasonal affective disorder. Dawn simulators can be purchased to gradually increase the light in your bedroom in the early morning hours. This makes it much easier to wake up as it helps to keep our biological clock on the right setting.
A lot of Seattleites use light therapy daily to help combat the symptoms. Full spectrum light boxes can have a pretty substantial impact on how you think and feel when you are struggling with SAD symptoms. People with certain mental conditions (bipolar disorder, psychosis) however, should not use light therapy as it has been shown to worsen their conditions. If you are unsure about trying light therapy, it is always best to ask your doctor.
Turn Winter Into a Ritual
Another way to free yourself from the seasonal depression is by embracing the cold and dark months for what they are. Starting the day with a sadhana, a form of meditation that celebrates dawn, can really help to clear your mind and adjust your mood. Also, try saving a special blanket or warm beverage for the winter months that you can look forward to using.
Watch the Carbs
When we are feeling down and exhausted, our bodies start to crave carbohydrates. We might have seasonal weight gain and the effects of carb-heavy diets only exacerbate the symptoms that we are already feeling. Knowing that the winter months bring this kind of reaction, we can take steps to ensure that we are eating whole foods and avoid carb-heavy diets, even if we crave them. Poor eating habits only worsen our seasonal symptoms.
Living With SAD Is Possible
Whether or not you believe SAD or the Winter Blues are a thing, many people do experience the symptoms. If you notice a pattern in your depressive thoughts, know that there are steps you can take to ward off the symptoms and prepare you defenses for the next season.
Seattle can be a hard place to live when the seasons change, but seasonal affective disorder doesn’t have to keep you feeling down!