Healthy Ways to Cope with Seasonal Affective Disorder

Help is available if you experience seasonal symptoms. We share tips for coping with seasonal affective disorder from an expert at Oakland Community Health Network.

On average, about 5% of adults in the U.S. experience seasonal affective disorder (SAD) — a type of depression that’s unique because it’s driven by changes in the season. Typically, the onset of SAD occurs in the fall and rates are higher in the northern states, according to Adam Hamilton, Clinical Director at Oakland Community Health Network, though some may also experience SAD in the spring or summer. 

How seasonal affective disorder feels

Symptoms of SAD are similar to symptoms of depression, including low motivation, fatigue, irritability, fuzzy thinking, appetite changes, weight gain and sometimes physical symptoms like headaches. SAD is not a common condition for children. “Early adulthood is typical onset and women tend to be more sensitive to the seasonality of SAD than men,” Hamilton states.

Mental health professionals tend to diagnose SAD when the pattern occurs regularly for at least two years, but you don’t need to wait to seek treatment — especially if your symptoms interfere with your day-to-day functioning — and that includes parenting.

Treatment can help

If you are experiencing symptoms of SAD, help is available. Therapy can offer good results and is a great place to start, says Hamilton. “Another common thing is light therapy.” Get outside during daylight hours — preferably in nature — and get some exercise, which is “great for any kind of mood regulation.”

Vitamin D supplements may help, too. If you are weaving together a variety of strategies because your symptoms aren’t abating, it’s important to do this with the support of a professional who can develop a plan and monitor the efficacy.

“If you have tried things on your own that have typically worked in the past when you have been feeling down, but the results aren’t significant or lasting, it’s time to think about getting a professional opinion,” Hamilton adds. 

Substances and SAD

“As with the case with most other disorders of mental health, people will turn to addictive behaviors, increasing the use of substances. And that’s a slippery slope to get on,” Hamilton warns. Alcohol and drugs can impact brain chemistry in a way that feels good immediately. 

“But the brain remembers that and wants to go back to it again and again. The slippery slope becomes an addictive process.”

If you’re trying to cope by using substances, you also may not be engaging in behaviors that can help long term. It’s important to know that there isn’t an overnight fix for this. Be patient and compassionate with yourself. The research bears out that SAD is a real thing, so don’t stigmatize or be too critical of yourself.

Help is available and you can reach the Oakland Community Health Network Main Access Line at 248-464-6363. If you or someone you know needs immediate help, call or text the Suicide & Crisis Lifeline at 988. Visit oaklandchn.org for more information.

OCHN is contracted by the Michigan Department of Health and Human Services (MDHHS) to manage and fund a service provider network for approximately 29,000 Oakland County residents at more than 400 service sites across the county. People who receive public behavioral health services through OCHN’s provider network include those who have an intellectual or developmental disability, mental health concerns or substance use disorder. Most of these individuals have Medicaid insurance coverage.     

OCHN’s goal is to ensure these individuals are aware of and have access to services and supports that will improve their health and quality of life, as well as ensure their engagement in full community participation. Its mission to “inspire hope, empower people, and strengthen communities” reflects an unyielding belief in a “Valuable System for Valued People.”

Programs and supports provided by OCHN’s service network are available at oaklandchn.org.

Claire Charlton
Claire Charlton
An enthusiastic storyteller, Claire Charlton focuses on delivering top client service as a content editor for Metro Parent. In her 20+ years of experience, she has written extensively on a variety of topics and is keen on new tech and podcast hosting. Claire has two grown kids and loves to read, run, camp, cycle and travel.

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