Cooler weather typically keeps everyone indoors, away from nature and other people. Depending on the climate, some adjust knowing this is the norm and others who enjoy warmer, sunnier days tend to shy away from spending time outside and become less active. Long, dark days can be difficult to endure with some people experiencing a shift in mood and emotions known as Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD). Some may choose to cope with the sad, lonely feelings with drugs or alcohol which can lead to addiction.
Women are more likely to be affected by seasonal changes than men. Approximately six percent of the population struggles with a swift change in mood and behavior during winter months. For those who struggle most, symptoms often appear cyclically, returning each year around the same time. Some of the following symptoms accompany SAD:
- Fluctuations in weight (usually weight gain)
- Lethargy or fatigue
- Feeling less joyful
- Feelings of hopelessness
- Isolation from friends, family
- Increased sleeping pattern
- Losing desire in activities once enjoyed
Addiction and SAD
Individuals who struggle with negative emotions during colder months may also find recovery a challenge. Changes in mood such as feeling more isolated, less joyful and tired can increase risk of relapse. Treating SAD is important, in addition to seeking support for addiction recovery such as a peer group or 12-step program.
Lifestyle changes are a large part of quickly and effectively managing SAD. Eating a healthy, balanced diet of fruits, vegetables and whole grains increases metabolism and overall feelings of well-being, particularly those struggling with SAD and addiction. Regular, consistent exercise is important. A gym or rec center with a walking track, classes and workout equipment can help bust the blues when colder weather arrives. Being in nature is restorative so finding opportunities to get some vitamin D by being outdoors, perhaps with a partner or group, can build those feelings of joy. Getting enough sleep is important (around 7-8 hours a night) and avoiding substance abuse as a coping mechanism are helpful. Some other treatments offered may include:
- Medical treatment by a doctor to manage symptoms
- Light therapy with a special machine to produce natural light missing in darker months
- Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT) to identify negative thought patterns and behaviors influencing substance abuse and help develop positive coping mechanisms
- Medication may be necessary but only under the direction of a treating physician who understands addiction treatment as well as SAD
- Natural supplements such as Vitamin D and others to boost mood
There are ways to beat the blues when seasonal affective disorder occurs. An understanding of the symptoms is important to developing a positive outlook and coping mechanisms to avoid relapse in recovery and support an overall sense of health and wellness for the longer, darker and more challenging seasons.