Last week, I briefly defined Seasonal Affective Disorder and the very basics of how it works in the winter, and I outlined some of the symptoms most people tend to complain of. This week, I think it’s important to touch on how SAD can impact other conditions.
SAD is sometimes tricky because it can have a temporary impact on other mental health conditions. Those suffering from psychotic symptoms, for example, may notice increases in hallucinations, difficulty focusing, harder time waking up (which can be further impacted by medications), weight gain (also an impacted side-effect of medications), or general lethargy. In my practice, I work almost exclusively with clients suffering from PTSD. A hallmark of PTSD can be extended periods of anxiety or depression, which can also be worsened with less access to natural light. In the earlier part of the winter, around the holidays, many of my clients also face trauma/loss anniversaries, triggers from difficult family dynamics, feeling drained by fuller-than-normal social calendars, end-of-year work stuff, etc. And those suffering from bipolar or other mood disorders are even more at risk of depressive periods despite sticking to strict medication, diet, supplement, and exercise regimens.
Maybe reading this information is teaching you something for the first time, or maybe it’s validating something you’ve experienced or are presently experiencing. Either way, these difficulties can make functioning that much more difficult. Now, let’s take a look at some of the impacts of SAD on physical health:
-weight gain- lethargy, desire to sleep more, and carb/sugar cravings all contribute. This can have lasting impacts on those at risk for diabetes, heart disease, and thyroid issues.
-joint pain- For those with fibromyalgia, tick-bourne diseases such as Lyme, arthritis, lupus, etc., winter can be excruciating. We as humans also just have less natural desire to move around in the winter, because it’s way better to stay indoors where it’s warm and bright, which can increase pain. This can be super frustrating to individuals who are used to a more active lifestyle, which can increase hopelessness, frustration, moodiness, and in extreme cases, suicidality. Check on your friends, help them shovel, and make extra effort to connect with those you love whom are struggling, even if it’s not in person (I will get more into natural remedies in next week’s blog).
-Headaches- lack of light, wanting to sleep, dietary changes all create the recipe for headaches!
-other sleep disturbances- because it gets darker earlier, we expose ourselves to more unnatural/blue light after the sun has gone down, especially with technology. This can severely impact sleep (I’ll discuss this more next week as well). Sleep disturbance can cause further weight gain and lethargy during the day, which impacts all areas of functioning and over time, raises cortisol levels in the blood and creates massive health issues.
While many doctors recommend medications, I will get into natural remedies and some of the strategies I use to combat the fatigue and moodiness next week! Please stay tuned, and if any of this sounds like you, know that you’re not alone!
Rebecca L. Toner, MA, LPC
Freer of Souls. Connector to Purpose. Healer of Lives.