It's SAD time of year: expert tips for managing seasonal affective disorder

Nov 1 2021, 8:20 pm

Shorter days and longer nights can take a toll. For those of us living in Canada, the darker days can mean that some of us experience symptoms of seasonal affective disorder, or SAD.

Daily Hive asked expert Megan Gelmon, a registered clinical counsellor at Sana Counselling in Vancouver, about SAD to learn more.

While fall is a busy time of year for Gelmon’s Vancouver practice, she says Vancouverites are not necessarily more susceptible to SAD than other Canadians.

“Studies highlight that SAD is more correlated to the light and dark cycle of the sun, which is related to latitude and less correlated to other environmental factors such as cloud cover, temperature, et cetera,” said Gelmon, who said SAD is common in Canada.

Here’s what she had to say about noticing and managing SAD:

What’s seasonal affective disorder?

Seasonal affective disorder is a combination of physical disruptions and mood disturbances that are a result of the seasonal changes, especially days getting shorter and darker.

Often, SAD shows up in autumn and winter and fades during the spring and summer seasons.

What are some of the symptoms?

The symptoms of SAD are very similar to those of depression. Many people who experience SAD notice physical changes, such as the desire to sleep more, feeling fatigued or lethargic, and increased food cravings and appetite. Weight gain can occur for some.

Moods experienced by individuals with SAD can include feelings of worthlessness or irritability. Some individuals have trouble with focusing.

Social withdrawal and avoiding usual interests or activities are common when people experience SAD. There can be a loss or decrease of interest in physical contact such as sex. For some, suicidal ideation occurs.

Can I just sit under my lamp for 15 minutes and pretend I’m on the beach and it will go away? What about chugging vitamin D supplements? Will that work?

Light therapy and vitamin D supplements in the appropriate amounts do assist in improving symptoms.

Most research done on SAD suggests that psychotherapy is also an effective form of symptom relief. Medication for depression can also be an effective treatment for SAD.

What’s your advice to someone who thinks they’re experiencing SAD and at what point do you recommend they see someone about it?

If you’re experiencing SAD or any feelings of depression, talk about your experience with friends and family rather than choosing (consciously or not) to isolate.

Speak to a mental health professional if you notice that the symptoms of SAD are getting in the way of your daily life, such as work or your relationships.

What’s something about SAD that people get wrong?

A common myth about SAD is that it only occurs during winter and that people in overcast climates are more likely to experience it.

If you experience SAD, know that it’s quite common in Canada, and sharing your experience with someone you trust will likely be more normalizing than you think!

If you’re not comfortable speaking with friends about your experience, there are many wonderful mental healthcare professionals who can assist you.

Sarah AndersonSarah Anderson

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