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The SAD truth: the secret behind seasonal affective disorder

DT Washington Emotional Health Leave a Comment

Is Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD) a real thing?

Is there really a switch that gets tripped when the cold sets in and the days get shorter? We’ve all heard someone (maybe you) say they chronically feel down during the winter months. But is it really SAD? Before jumping to “disorder” conclusions, it may be best to dig a little deeper and see what’s really behind those winter-time blues.

Here are five reasons you get the basic winter doldrums with ways to turn the seasonal frown upside down:

The days are indeed shorter.

This means it’s darker earlier and earlier. This does not have a biological impact, but it may play some tricks with your mind. Perhaps you feel lonely at night, and night just got about 4 hours longer. Maybe the dark triggers some basic fears around safety (“what was that noise?”). Maybe you feel sad remembering how lonely you felt waiting for Mom to pick you up from school after nightfall.


The idea is to recognize what feelings are connected to dark and what you need to feel better. It may be enough to remember how dark and night can trigger your feelings, but if not, turn on some lights and peppy music. “Deck the halls,” anyone? Connect with that friend you’ve been meaning to call. Or take yourself out for an early dinner. You may just start to associate nightfall with something pleasant.

Baby, it’s cold outside!

Even though it’s brrrrrrr, most of us are plenty warm inside our homes. So, what gives? There may be an innate human fear tied to being cold. Or perhaps, you had a traumatic experience with cold weather or water. Or maybe you miss being outdoors. Regardless, it’s time to warm up.


Again, ask yourself what feelings come up when you feel the cold and decide what you can do to help. Some ideas include cooking a warming meal, eating soup, working out, taking a warm bath or hot shower, getting an extra blanket on the bed, or putting on slippers over warm socks. The steps you take toward self-care alone may make you feel better.


You’re seeing the world in black and white.

If you live in a region where it snows, your outdoor world may be lacking color. How does the bleakness make you feel? Empty, lost, full of loss? Time to find the anecdote by exploring your feelings and coming up with solutions.


This year, put up holiday decorations early or purchase some outdoor decorations that brighten your patio or yard. Bring a colorful painting into your home or do some painting with bright colors. Wear pops of bright color regardless of the status quo fashion trends. Or, to really make a change, take a trip to a tropical, colorful location.


Your social calendar takes a big hit.

It’s normal to have fewer social engagements this time of year. People are busy, out of town, or avoiding driving in bad weather. They want to stay cozy in their homes. This lack of socializing may make certain people feel more alone than normal. If this is you, it’s time to find some ways to fill the void.


Usually, go with the girls to dinner? Try lunch instead. Host a video call with friends who are far away. Go to a seminar or join a class. Or simply remind yourself that you’ll shortly be surrounded by family for that big meal, and to relish your alone time while it’s here.

‘Tis the season. Or is it?

A lot of people get anxious, angry, and guilt-ridden around the holidays. If this is you, check out my journal entry on How to Deal with Holiday-Triggering Emotions.


The holidays can be triggering for even the healthiest of situations, but if you’re dealing with an extra layer of difficult circumstances, you may want to seek professional help. Maybe you’re grieving a past holiday trauma. Or maybe it’s your first holiday season alone or after a divorce. Regardless, we are here to help you get through, not without some joy and cheer.


When you take a step back and look at all the ways the holidays may be affecting you, it’s easy to see why SAD may feel like your reality. In truth, it may just take some simple changes to feel better all winter long.


To your emotional health,

Dr. Dabney


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