Sunset is occurring roughly 45 minutes sooner than it did last month and, even if it doesn’t feel like it on some parts of the Shore, the temperature will be dropping. As we approach September 23rd, fall is moving in quickly, bringing with it more darkness and lower temperatures which means Seasonal Affective Disorder for many people. What is Seasonal Affective Disorder, and how do you manage it?
Seasonal Affective Disorder, according to the National Institute of Mental Health, is a depression that occurs along with particular seasons, typically the fall through winter. It tends to go away in the Summer and Spring. This can be the opposite for some people, but it is rare.
The disorder is diagnosed by the same criteria as depression; regular sadness more days than not; hopelessness/worthlessness; feeling slowed down or restless; loss of interest; fatigue; sleeping and eating disturbances; and thoughts of death or suicide. The difference is that symptoms are occurring only during certain seasons of the year. It is possible to manage this, as with any other type of depression.
Let’s look at some ways to address Seasonal Affective Disorder:
Start Early—Whatever interventions you use, be proactive about them. That’s why I’m writing now and not in the middle of fall. If you’re aware of having this pattern, you can begin preparing to care for yourself early in order to reduce the impact later.
Step in the Sunlight—It’s thought that those with Seasonal Affective Disorder occurring during fall and winter may be negatively impacted by the limited sunlight. Whether it’s stepping outside on your lunch break for several minutes or enjoying the local outdoor offerings of the Shore (check out the article here for ideas) make it a priority to get your sunlight in. As it gets cooler, be sure to bundle up!
Watch What You Eat—This is tough to do when the holidays approach. Unfortunately, the holidays often come with increased sugars, comfort foods, and alcohol between parties, office celebrations, and family get-togethers. Too much of any of these can negatively impact your mood, so the key is moderation. It doesn’t mean you can’t be part of the festivities but continue to focus most on a healthy diet, and keep the treats to a minimum.
Stay Occupied—Often times, due to colder temperatures, people end up doing less feel-good activities because the activities exist outside such as gardening, beach-going, sports, hiking, etc. Find other activities to spend your time on that can be achieved during the fall and winter. Pick up crafting, take your active lifestyle indoors to the gym, volunteer your time to help those in need, redecorate your space, learn something new, or join the church choir. These are just examples, find what you enjoy.
Be Social—With the exception of spending more time with toxic friends or family members, being social is a great way to keep your mood boosted. Often, people with Seasonal Affective Disorder tend to isolate themselves, shying away from going out which can lead to negative thoughts, feeling left out, and boredom. Go to the get-togethers, make time for community celebrations, and explore what kind of activities are out there. Being around others is good for humans because we’re social beings and planning events also gives us something to look forward to.
Here are some upcoming local events to look forward to:
The Ward Museum’s Chesapeake Wildfowl Expo and Fall Festival on Oct 12th
The Salisbury Zoo’s Halloween Happening on Oct. 19th
The Berlin Tree Lighting and Holiday Open House on Nov. 29th
Cambridge Dorchester County Christmas Parade on Dec. 7th
Train Garden Open Weekends in December starting Dec. 7th
Seek Out Professional Help—The above suggestions are just that: suggestions. They can never replace real clinical and medical advice, which this article does not provide. Seeking out mental health providers is often a part of the treatment for mental illnesses, including Seasonal Affective Disorder. Professionals can provide recommendations based on your unique experience. There are many mental health providers along the Lower Eastern Shore of Virginia, Maryland and Delaware—too many to mention here. In some areas, calling 211 is a way to get connected to mental health resources.
Seasonal Affective Disorder has the power to disrupt roughly half of your year. Take it back by taking action early to manage your symptoms. There’s much out there on our Eastern Shore to provide you with the tools for success.
Disclaimer—This article is for general information purposes only. It is not intended as clinical or medical advice and should not be treated as such. Information is also not intended for diagnosis or treatment. Comments are not monitored 24/7 and emergency aid cannot be provided by this author or platform. Emergency resources include calling 911, 1-800-273-8255 (national suicide prevention lifeline), or going to the nearest emergency room. Visit https://suicidepreventionlifeline.org/
“Seasonal Affective Disorder.” National Institute of Mental Health, U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, Mar. 2016, https://www.nimh.nih.gov/health/topics/seasonal-affective-disorder/index.shtml .