Is it SAD?

Jan 26, 2024 | Depression, holidays, Mental Health Care, SAD, Stigma

It’s normal to feel “down” after the busyness and stress of the holidays, but Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD) is different from the typical “holiday blues.” Like many other factors, the weather and lack of sunlight can affect our mental health, and as the days feel shorter and the cold of winter sets in, we may start to notice our mood shifting. SAD typically lasts throughout the winter months, which can feel never ending depending where you live. According to the Canadian Mental Health Association,

About 15% of people in Canada experience the winter blues, while only about 2-3% experience SAD.

When our mood is low, tasks that once felt simple like getting out of bed, brushing your teeth, making a cup of coffee, or going for a walk may feel overwhelming. You may start to feel like a completely different person than you were in the summer. People experiencing SAD may feel unmotivated, hopeless, stressed, sad, numb, and irritable and may disengage from activities they enjoy or people they love.

These feelings often lead to changes in our behaviours – we may sleep lots or very little, we may notice changes in our appetite. We might experience a lack of energy, let routines fall by the way, neglect self care, and/or isolate ourselves.

The hopelessness that comes along with SAD can cause people to feel like: 

“Nothing feels worth it anymore”
“I just want to sleep forever”
“There’s no point to any of this”

These are signs that we may need some extra support to get through this season. The emotions and changes in behaviour that come along with SAD can cause people to experience guilt and shame because they may not understand why they’re feeling the way they do.

Some common myths about SAD include: 

  • There has to be a “reason” I’m depressed – People may feel confused or guilty when they can’t pinpoint the exact reason they are feeling depressed. With SAD, there may be no specific reason, and that’s okay. 
  • I shouldn’t need medication for this – Oftentimes there is stigma around taking medication to support our mental health. SAD is a type of depression that may require medication, even if it’s just for a short period of time. Make sure to talk to your doctor if you’re experiencing any of these feelings.
  • It’s not bad enough to get help for – Any shift in our mood that causes difficulties with our emotions, relationships, regular routines or even jobs is something that can affect our life in a big way. Although you may still feel like you’re able to function, not feeling like your “normal self” is enough of a reason to get help.

When we’re feeling exhausted and can’t see how things will get any better, it can be hard to think about how to move forward. Here are some options for ways we can cope with SAD:

  • Try something, even if it’s “just 5 minutes” – You may not feel like you have the energy to take on a big task, but remember that doing a “little bit” of something is valuable too. 
  • Get outside – This may feel impossible, especially when you’re feeling depleted or unmotivated. Try getting outside for small amounts of time each day, even if it’s just for a few minutes. Take a quick walk around the block, park farther away from the door at work or take out your garbage while the sun is out. 
  • Talk to someone – Share how you’re feeling with a friend, family member, or counsellor. If you notice yourself having negative thoughts or feeling hopeless, reach out to someone you trust, whoever that might be.
  • Explore light therapy – When it feels like it’s dark most of the time, try some creative ways to get more sunlight. This could look like sitting in front of a special light therapy lamp while you read, opening your curtains each day, moving furniture in your office or living space to be closer to a window or taking a quick walk on your lunch break.
  • Practice self-compassion – Dealing with the side effects of SAD can be difficult and overwhelming. Remember to be kind to yourself. Ask yourself, if someone I cared about was feeling how I am, how would I respond?

If you are struggling, know that there is help and support available. If you require additional supports, consider using the following resources: