Treating Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD)...yes, it's REAL!

anxiety depression ocd seasonal affective disorder

I have received quite a few requests asking me to talk about changing seasons, which is what this podcast episode of Your Anxiety Toolkit is all about!  Here in the Northern Hemisphere, we have moved from Summer to Autumn to Winter.  It’s not just here though!  I’m sure that the change of seasons is happening all around the world right now. In the Southern Hemisphere, the seasons are changing from Winter to Spring to Summer (I got you, Australia!).

The seasons most certainly impact our mental health and, in this week’s podcast, I talk about a few important things to consider when managing depression, anxiety, OCD, and other mental health issues. Before we get into this, let’s look at how the change of seasons and temperature impacts us medically.

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First let’s look at how the change in temperature impacts us on a Medical level.

Seasonal Affective Disorder, commonly labeled SAD, is understood to be a seasonal depression.  It affects 5% percent of the population of residents in the United States.  It’s that high!  You are not alone if you are one of these people who are highly impacted by changing temperatures.  Light therapy, medication, and outdoor activity are common treatments for Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD).  A change of seasons is not the only thing that contributes to Seasonal Affective Disorder.  SAD is often onset by changes during daylight savings time, when we “fall back” and have less light during the day.  We have less time to get outdoors, move our bodies, and soak up the beautiful sunlight—which is linked to Seasonal Affective Disorder symptoms—when days get shorter.

We also know that our circadian rhythms can be affected by colder weather, which can lead to more depressive symptoms.  We have less energy when we are tired, causing us to feel sad or down or, in some cases, depressed.

The shift in seasons and weather also impacts us on a psychological level.  With the changing seasons, we can also see changes in our thoughts. 

Thoughts such as: 
“The days are so short, I hate that” 
“It is so cold and there is nothing to do” 
“No one will want to spend time with me when it is so cold” 
“The next three months are going to suck” 

Depressive symptoms—such as hopelessness, worthlessness, and helplessness—can manifest from negative thoughts.  There are a few things we can do when such thoughts arise.  First, it’s our job to correct any negative or fault thoughts so that the weather or time changes don’t impact us so heavily.  Second, we can be more mindful when we get these thoughts. 

We also look at the seasons from a metaphorical standpoint in this episode.  Similarly to how we approach our emotions, we must be careful with how we approach the seasons.

Thinking about emotions as seasons, we could consider some emotions as summer (happiness, arousal, joy) and some emotions as winter (sadness, guilt, shame).  We could consider spring as a time where we feel hopeful, alive, and free.  We could also consider autumn as being patient and letting go and shedding what does not serve us.  What happens when we treat one emotion like it is worse than or less than another? We start to have an aversion to it. Metaphorically, we must be open to all of the seasons (environmentally or emotionally) whether we enjoy them or not. In this episode, we’ll talk about how!


About Kimberley Quinlan

Kimberley Quinlan is a Licensed Marriage and Family Therapist who specializes in Anxiety, Obsessive Compulsive Disorder (OCD), Eating Disorders, Panic Disorder and Body Focused Repetitive Behaviors (BFRB’s).  Kimberley is highly trained in Cognitive-Behavioral Therapy (CBT), with a heavy emphasis on Exposure Response Prevention (ERP), and has been practicing meditation and mindfulness for many years.  Kimberley has a special interest in the integration of mindfulness principles with CBT for OCD, Anxiety Disorders, and Eating Disorders.  Kimberley has experience treating adults, adolescents, and children, and tailors each program to suit the age and cognitive development of each client.  Kimberley has a private practice in Calabasas and Westlake Village.