How Your Thoughts and Outlook Impact Seasonal Affective Disorder

Thoughts and Seasonal Changes

By: Costa Provis, LCPC, CPC

As you begin preparing for the upcoming seasonal changes by getting your wardrobe, car and home ready, are you also considering your emotional readiness?  Changes in the seasons can have a wide range of affects, both positive and negative.

Being from the Chicagoland area I personally love that we get to experience all four seasons each year (sometimes even in the same week).  From a day at the beach basking in the hot sun, to a nice crisp Autumn night sleeping beside a slightly opened window, there is a wealth of different experiences that the seasons offer; different sights, sounds, tastes, and even moods.  However, sometimes seasonal change can have a more significant and negative impact on us.  Did you know that as much as 20% of the population suffers from at least mild Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD)?

Related: Seasonal Affective Disorder: 10 Facts You Might Not Know

Sometimes the impact of Seasonal Affective Disorder causes people to choose to move to warm climates, but that is not always an easy option and carries a whole bunch of separate consequences.  If you are more interested in figuring out ways to combat the negative effects of seasonal changes while trying to enjoy your life in a cold weather city like ours then hopefully this will be helpful.

What is Seasonal Affective Disorder?  To put it plainly, it’s a noticeable (although you may be the last to realize in some cases) change in your mood (often similar to clinical depression) that we experience in connection to changes in seasons/weather.  It is usually triggered by changes in temperature, but also by a lack of hours and exposure to sunlight, among other things.  Think about it, it’s dark when you wake up for work, and quite often by the time you’re leaving work it’s already dark again.

You’re activity levels typically drop, and because there’s less to do outdoors, you’re probably more likely to grab dinner with friends and/or grab a few drinks.  Before you know what happened it’s really cold with what seems like little hope for any relief.  It sure can be depressing.

If you aren’t sure if you may be experiencing a little SAD, some common symptoms are feeling unmotivated, easily overwhelmed, disinterested in hanging out with family or friends, having difficulty with concentration, changes in sleep patterns and in appetite or weight, feeling hopeless, or generally depressed.  If this list of possible symptoms resonates with you, I’m here to offer a bit of hope.  There are some things you could (or maybe I should say should) do!  Consider any combination of the following suggestions: Light therapy, work out, socialize, take or plan a vacation just to name a few.

Equally important to the behaviors and actions you take, is the mental outlook you choose to have.  In this generally depressed state it’s pretty easy to focus on the crappy weather, the darkness, being stuck indoors, or gaining weight from all the beer and pizza.  A huge part of coping with SAD is changing your mindset.  While engaging in the wonderful and healthy actions listed above (and please feel free to add to my list with self-care acts that you enjoy) try to practice being present and in the moment.

Focus on the positive relationships and strides that you are taking.  Reflect on the self-control and discipline you are displaying.  Anticipate your vacation and feel a sense of hope.  This kind of shift in your outlook can have really profound effects on your entire being.  Before you know it you aren’t even “coping” with SAD anymore, you’re just living your happy life.

While working to cope with the symptoms of SAD, if you’re just finding that progress isn’t coming quickly enough, or that you’re having difficulty changing your mindset, perhaps you will want to work with a therapist to get a bit of guidance.  Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT), for instance, has been found to be a highly effective approach which can be useful as a way to start connecting the ways your thoughts impact your actions (and vice versa).

Regardless of the specific approach, thoughts, actions that you choose, just try to remember that you deserve to be happy.  Just like in the Game of Thrones “winter is coming” but by changing some of our behaviors and just as importantly our mindset, you can keep your mood happy and winter just might not suck quite as bad.