What to do if you have Seasonal Affective Disorder

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SAD is a type of depression with a seasonal pattern, affecting between 1 and 10 percent of the population. Illustration by JL JAVIER

Manila (CNN Philippines Life) — Do you sometimes feel down? Like you’re just not in the mood and you’re sad all the time? Do you feel like it just occurs during the rainy or winter season, or whenever Christmas comes around? We call that Seasonal Affective Disorder or SAD.

SAD is categorized by the DSM-5 as a type of depression. It is described as a “recurring major depression with a seasonal pattern” affecting “between 1 percent and 10 percent of the population.” It more typically affects women — for every man that has SAD, there are four women who are affected by it.

According to Psychiatry Advisor, “Full remittance is necessary during other seasons, and the pattern must continue for at least two years, with more episodes of seasonal depression than seasons without depression over the course of a lifetime.”

It is not uncommon to feel sad or irritated when Christmas begins. For some, the ups and downs that come with the changing seasons are manageable. But on the other end of the spectrum, individuals that may be dealing with Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD) require lifestyle changes or professional support to overcome it.

I share with you tips which I hope will get you through it.

It is helpful to engage in physical activity.

With the cold weather, it can be difficult to pull yourself out of bed. But it’s important to keep moving just so active blood circulation is maintained, which helps elevate your mood. Look at it as a way to keep those endorphins up.

Exercise has been proven to reduce symptoms of depression and make you feel better. A simple walk or run would do. It does not have to be costly, what is important is you move.

Turn the lights on.

Are you the type of person whose mood becomes gloomy because the environment is literally gloomy? As in dark skies, dimly lit spaces, and all that stuff?

Try turning on your lamps and overhead lights — or light therapy — this can help lift up your mood as it triggers the release of happy hormones or endorphins. You may even want to label your lights as your own version of a pocketful of sunshine as, subconsciously, when you do this, your brain starts to associate light with an uplifted mood.

Remember perspective? Try to see the positive despite the negatives.

Focusing on the negative is easy, but it just continuously drags us down. Thinking of the positive can greatly improve our perspective and mood.

This is where journaling comes in. You may get a piece of paper and write one-liners of things or people you are grateful for then stick them on your wall. Every time you see them, they shall serve as reminders of happiness.

If you need something a little more systematic, you can try Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT). It’s a psychotherapy treatment that forces you to assess your negative thoughts and the meaning you attach to them. CBT usually involves identifying a problem in your life, observing and identifying the negative thoughts that arise from thinking about or facing these problems, and finding a way to reshape your response. This is best done with the help of a psychotherapist, who has a tried and tested framework.

Share and speak up.

One of the best ways to feel better is to speak up and share how you feel with a trusted friend. Venting is a great way of easing up the burden you feel. Sometimes you and your friend may even be feeling the same way and may help each other along the way by sharing stories and tips.

Lift each other up, there is so much power in that. But if your sadness or lethargy is continuing over days or weeks and affecting your quality of life, do consider reaching out to a counselor or other professionals who can help.

Do what makes you happy and veer away from the guilt of treating yourself.

Treating yourself may sometimes make you feel guilty, but by all means please do. When you’re thinking of doing so, these are questions you need to answer: What is your favorite happy activity? What makes you happy? What makes your inner child want to play again? Once you get to internalize the answers to these questions, then by all means go and do it. Each one of us deserve that happiness.

Depression takes its toll on us, one loses perspective and it just makes one feel that there is no hope, like a trap, with no way out. But here is my take — whatever it is that you are diagnosed with, whether it’s depression or Seasonal Affective Disorder, do not allow it to define the good person in you. Your diagnosis is not your sentence, it is just a word. And if there is one thing I can say to end this article, it’s this: It will always get better. No matter how long, no matter how difficult, it will always be and get better. It always does.