SAD—Yes, it’s Real
Updated: Sep 30, 2022
“I get SAD in the winter, like Seasonal Affective Disorder.”
“Oh, really? That’s… a real thing?”
“Yeah, every time it starts to get cold, I can feel it.”
I’ve heard and had a conversation similar, or almost identical to this one so many times. SAD is an acronym that we often see on social media, but like many other mental health diagnoses is sometimes overused and thus minimizes the clinical and individual experience of Seasonal Affective Disorder.
If you’re like me, winter means costumes, getting into food comas on Thanksgiving, and making my apartment look like Santa’s vacation home; it is and always has been a really fun time of the year. However, when you have SAD, it means going from carefree and happy summer days to darkness and emotional overload. So when it starts to get cold, I have a combination of pure joy and apprehensiveness because I know my happiness is coupled with emotional struggle. A lot of Americans report experiencing Seasonal Affective Disorder—10 million people in the United States, to be specific.
What exactly is Seasonal Affective Disorder and why should we all take it seriously?
What makes SAD so concerning is that it mimics major depressive symptoms, but rather than happening progressively, it’s abrupt and only occurs during one specific time of the year. People with SAD may experience loneliness, hopelessness, lack of appetite, loss of interest in things that could’ve been one of their favorites, and sometimes suicidal thoughts or attempts. However, having SAD doesn’t mean that winter must be miserable. If you are having some SAD symptoms, here’s what you can do to make your winter a little easier:
Tell someone. Pick one person (or more), whether it be your therapist or your best friend, and tell them everything—what SAD is, how you feel, and what you’re thinking. Having even one person know what you’re experiencing will help you feel supported and take off some emotional pressure and stress. You never have to go through tough times by yourself.
Go outside. I know it’s cold and if you’re in an area like mine, everything is dead or dying outside, but that makes going outside even more impactful. I truly believe that if you’re able to go out in winter weather and have fun with it, you can do anything. Try ice skating or walking around with hot cocoa. If you’re really ambitious, get a group of buds and start a snowball war (they’re seriously so fun and that’s coming from someone who generally avoids snow).
Write out how you feel. If you’ve ever been to a therapist or even know one, you know we preach journaling as a seriously powerful activity. There’s just something about getting everything you’re feeling or thinking out on paper that is so cathartic. If journaling isn’t your thing or you don’t have enough time to sit and write, pull out your phone, open your Notes, and type whatever comes to mind. Somehow displace what is inside out.
Get physical. If you’re sitting there feeling terrible, change it. Literally change it by getting up and being active. It doesn’t have to be intense interval training or going to a gym. Even getting up and doing light stretches can make you and your brain work in a way that will restructure what you’re feeling. I swear, because it’s cold outside and I don’t want to sit and make myself feel bad, I do more yoga than ever in the winter.
SAD doesn’t have to make winters horrible. Doing any of these four suggestions will be a huge step in the right direction for anyone impacted by SAD. Just like any state of being, it won’t get better until you make that change happen and find the motivation to keep that change going. I hope that you, your friend, the person sitting next to you, or whoever else that may be reading this that is affected by SAD finds solace in these wintery months and is able to enjoy the season and what it can offer! And, again, you never have to go through tough times by yourself.