What is Seasonal Affective Disorder?
Seasonal Affective Disorder is a condition that affects millions across the globe AND in New Mexico.
If you’ve been a little down-in-the-dumps this winter, it may not just be Daylight Savings Time throwing you off; you could be experiencing Seasonal Affective Disorder, or SAD. We know “disorder” sounds like an intimidating word, but understand this: experiencing SAD doesn’t make you broken, it’s treatable, and it’s far more common than you think.
As winter sets in and the days get shorter, many of us may find ourselves grappling with the impact of seasonal changes on our mental health. While New Mexico boasts breathtaking landscapes and an abundance of sunshine, the winter months can bring their own set of challenges. In this blog post, we'll explore the unique dynamics of winter in the Southwest and provide practical tips to help you manage and embrace the season.
SAD Affects Us All – Regardless of Climate
Seasonal Affective disorder doesn’t discriminate based on location; living in a sunshiny desert doesn’t exclude us New Mexicans from experiencing SAD. In fact, people in the sunniest, warmest parts of the country, like California and Florida, are affected as well.
The shift in daylight hours, stress of the Holiday season, busy work schedules, and cooler temperatures all take a toll on our mental well-being.And let’s consider, as well, the fact that in these winter months, nature slows down — animals hibernate, plants shed their leaves and turn brown and gray, taking a long break ‘till spring — but, due to expectations and responsibilities regarding work and family, we humans do not slow down, even though some speculate we are hard-wired to do so.
And, now, of course, with the magic of the holiday season behind us, many of us may be coming down from the excitement and joy of being amongst our family and friends — leaving us to brave the remainder of winter feeling, perhaps, that there’s little to look forward to.
(Spoiler Alert: there is a lot to look forward to.)
Understanding Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD):
We find that it’s helpful for people to know and understand that their conditions are not results of their inability to cope or due to some anomaly of their minds; these cooler months can trigger a set of complex chemical reactions in certain folks that would leave anyone feeling bummed.Which is our way of saying: if you’re experiencing SAD, it’s not your fault. So, let’s get into greater detail: what, exactly, is SAD, and why does it happen?
Seasonal Affective Disorder is a form of depression that occurs seasonally, usually in the fall and winter months, when sunlight exposure decreases. The lack of sunlight can disrupt our circadian rhythms (AKA, our “body clocks”) and affect the production of serotonin and melatonin, two crucial neurotransmitters that influence mood and sleep.
However, we know that while it may be helpful to understand that your SAD is a chemical reaction and not just you being “crazy,” we can also understand why this news may not be so nice to hear.
You may be asking yourself, at this point: “If SAD isn’t something I created, how do I control it? How do I cope if it happens at a chemical level, beyond my control?”
We would never leave you to figure that out for yourself. There are practical, actionable, easy ways to manage your SAD, and we’re going to share them with you now.
Tips for Coping with SAD in New Mexico Winters:
Soak Up the Sun
When it gets dark at 4pm, sunlight hours are precious, but taking the time to step outside and soak up the sun is one of the easiest ways to start remedying your SAD.
Take a stroll in a nearby park, have your morning coffee on the porch, or simply sit by a window to maximize your exposure to natural light. Trust us: it’s worth braving the chill.
Engage in regular physical activity, whether it’s dancing around in your bedroom like no one’s watching, or going on walks around your neighborhood.
Exercise releases endorphins, which can help alleviate symptoms of depression. Find ways to move that make you feel joyful and safe, and then do them regularly.
Consider investing in a light therapy box, especially during the darker months. These devices mimic natural sunlight and can be a game-changer for managing SAD symptoms.
Connect with Others
Social connections are essential for mental well-being. Plan gatherings with friends or family, even if they're virtual or over the phone. Human interaction can provide a much-needed boost during the winter blues.
Incorporate mindfulness and relaxation techniques into your daily routine. Whether it's meditation, deep breathing exercises, or a warm bath, these practices can help reduce stress and improve your mood.
Embrace Winter Activities
Take advantage of the unique winter activities New Mexico has to offer. Go ice skating with friends, bake cookies, have a snowball fight — anything that will help you find joy in the season.
As winter unfolds in the Southwest, it's crucial to be proactive in managing your mental health. By incorporating these coping strategies into your routine, you can navigate the winter months with resilience and embrace the unique beauty that New Mexico has to offer.
Remember, seeking professional support when needed is a sign of strength, and The Family Connection is here to help you on your journey to mental well-being. Stay warm, stay connected, and let the sunshine in!