Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD)
If the thought of fall, pumpkin spice lattes, and bonfires bums you out…
If you find yourself confused by the unnerving cheer on a snowman’s face…
If your mood lowers rapidly along with the liquid mercury in the thermometer…
If you mysteriously cheer up as soon as spring rolls around…
You may be experiencing something called seasonal affective disorder (SAD). SAD is a type of depression that occurs seasonally, typically in the colder, darker months of winter (although it can also occur during other seasons). SAD affects around five percent of people in the United States.
For someone in addiction recovery, seasonal depression can add to the challenge of maintaining sobriety.
Symptoms of SAD
Seasonal affective disorder usually affects women more often than men, and symptoms include:
- General feelings of hopelessness, sadness or suicidal thoughts
- Sleeping a lot more than usual
- Increasing consumption of starchy, sweet, or fatty foods
- Noticeable decrease in exercise leading to noticeable weight gain
- A sense of heaviness in the extremities and feelings of lethargy
- Irritability and aversion to social situations
In addition to bringing colder weather and darker skies, the fall and winter months also bring the drama of the holidays. Halloween, Thanksgiving, Christmas Eve, Christmas, New Year’s…all of these holidays can agitate us psychologically and induce a sense of dread.
Perhaps you’re dealing with anxiety over holiday gatherings and SAD at the same time. This happens to many people and, for those in addiction recovery, can be a serious relapse trigger.
Techniques & Tools for Avoiding SAD Pitfalls
Knowing that you should not turn to substances for comfort does not always make it easy to resist cravings. So let’s look at a few things you can do to avoid relapse or substance abuse during the fall and winter months.
Engage in Recovery Support
If you’re involved in a 12-step support group, go to more meetings. Work with a sponsor and connect with group members as often as needed to help yourself stay strong. If you are not involved with a 12-step group, find a local recovery support group that fits your values and engage with that community.
Research of the medical effectiveness of essential oils is ongoing but promising. Aromatherapy involves using essential oils to ease mental, emotional, and physical stress. Mixing water with a few drops of an essential oil, like lavender or wintergreen, in a diffuser that releases the scented air is a popular way to engage in aromatherapy at home. Aromatherapy has been shown to alleviate headaches, muscle tension, and anxiety.
Get a Massage
Massage therapy helps to reduce muscle tension, which in turn reduces mental tension. Massage can also improve circulation, lower blood pressure, and boost the immune system. There are many types of massage, all used for different purposes. If you’re new to massage, you might want to start with a standard Swedish massage, in which the therapist uses long strokes, kneading, and circular motions to help release muscle tension.
Often, the weight of obligation to attend events or parties can cause more distress, especially when combined with seasonal depression. If this is the case for you, simply decline those invitations. Know what you can handle and be firm about your boundaries. There will always be other opportunities for bonding with friends and family.
We Can Help
If you are struggling with depression, seasonal or otherwise, consult with a doctor or psychiatrist. They will be able to give you a diagnosis and options for treatment. And if depression is putting you in danger of relapse, speak to an admissions counselor at St. Gregory. We can help you determine your best option for maintaining your sobriety year round.