Josh Chandler | December 13, 2021

4 Alcohol and Drug Free Ways to Cope with Seasonal Affective Disorder

What Is Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD)?

As the summer and fall months full of bright sunny days come to an end and we begin to transition into winter where the days become shorter with colder weather, it often results in individuals spending more time indoors to escape the cold. On top of that, due to the lack of daylight hours and sunny weather, we experience darker, gloomier days that often lead to substance abuse called seasonal affective disorder.

Nearly 10 million Americans will be affected by seasonal affective disorder (SAD) each year. SAD is characterized as a form of depression resulting from the weather changes, primarily in the winter when there is less sunlight and an increase in colder weather. It is believed that SAD affects your body’s ability to adapt to the seasonal changes due to the circadian rhythm, which is how your body can operate within the 24-hour clock that controls our sleep patterns and the hours we wake up. This can affect our ability to feel energized throughout the day and sometimes result in being drowsy.

Typically, as the days have less light and we begin to spend most of our time hunkered down inside our home, we begin to feel less energized and motivated to keep our bodies moving with physical activity outside. This can significantly impact your mental health as you are not getting the endorphins or movement you need to maintain your physical and mental health. It is also believed that the changes in seasons impact your body’s hormone production of melatonin and serotonin, which are essential in aiding your body’s sleep patterns and ability to manage emotions and overall well-being.

While SAD can impact both men and women, studies have found that women are four times more likely to experience this form of depression than men will. If you are a younger individual, your chances of experiencing SAD can increase compared to older folks. Comparably, those who have a pre-existing diagnosis of bipolar or depression will have a higher likelihood of feeling symptoms of SAD.

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SAD and Substance Abuse

When you are experiencing troubling or unpleasant emotions resulting from depression, it is common for individuals to want to find a way to escape from the challenging feelings they are being presented with. The allure of drugs or alcohol can appear like a perfect outlet to let go of the heavy emotions weighing you down. Even though you may feel momentary relief from those feelings, people do not account for how substance abuse can further impact your feelings of depression, causing them to become worse and harder to manage.

When individuals turn to substances to cope, what is often not anticipated is that addiction and physical dependency can follow. As you continue to use substances as a means of self-medicating, your body becomes reliant on these substances to function normally throughout the day. The two compounding factors of addiction and seasonal affective disorder can create a vicious cycle of trying to work yourself out of the negative feelings and side effects that both conditions convey. To best treat both of these disorders, it is essential to reach out for help through a dual diagnosis addiction treatment program where you will learn effective coping mechanisms and tools for mitigating both co-occurring disorders.

Symptoms of SAD

If you are concerned that you or a loved one is suffering from a seasonal affective disorder and substance abuse but are unsure what to look for to determine if this is what you are experiencing, some symptoms are typically felt for those with the seasonal affective disorder include:

  • The onset of depression during a seasonal shift: Typically, the feelings of depression continue each day as you go through the season (often fall or winter).
  • Experiencing extreme low energy and tiredness
  • A shift in your regular appetite and, for some, weight gain
  • Sleeping more than usual and for long periods
  • Loss of enjoyment or interest in activities and pastimes that used to bring you happiness or fulfillment
  • Isolation or withdrawing from your loved ones and social circles
  • Increase thoughts of self-harm or suicide
  • Experiencing levels of physical discomfort such as headaches, body aches
  • Feeling an increase of anxiety or irritability. Often when experiencing deep depression, it can feel like even the most minor things are too much to handle, making it hard to manage the day-to-day life expectations and routines.

4 Healthier Ways to Cope With SAD

1. Create and stick to a schedule

There are healthy, natural ways that you can work to combat the negative, troubling symptoms of SAD that will have you out enjoying life again. When you are experiencing symptoms of depression, it can feel challenging to get out of bed in the morning due to the extreme fatigue and emotions you are experiencing. Having a regular schedule where you get up and go to bed simultaneously each day will increase your energy throughout the day and improve your sleep pattern. By having a set time you get up and start your day, you will allow yourself optimal time to enjoy the hours that have sunlight and seize the opportunity to take in as much daylight as you can.

As you create a healthy daily routine for yourself, it is vital to incorporate a healthy eating pattern. This process will aid in ensuring that you will not be overeating and avoid symptoms of weight gain. Additionally, you will be able to plan your meals and ensure that your diet is packed full of foods rich in vitamins and nutrients to help increase your physical and emotional functioning.

2. Get active outdoors

Our bodies are meant to be moving and getting some sort of physical activity each day, and it can be challenging to feel motivated to get outside and get moving. While the winter doesn’t always have the same appeal for getting outside, there are a wide variety of options for outdoor activities that are enjoyable and physically engaging. Depression is often best treated through physical activity. Even for a walk, skating, or skiing, getting outside are just some of the great activities that winter offers. The more your body gets fresh air and physical exertion, the more natural endorphins will flow through your body, increasing your serotonin level, responsible for your feelings of happiness and joy.

If it is too cold to be outside, there are lots of options to keep your body moving and get the physical activity you need to combat feelings of depression. Whether you use home gym equipment, go to a local pool for a swim, or enroll in yoga classes, there are many opportunities to keep you physically and emotionally engaged in physical activity.

3. Keep a journal

It is common when you are experiencing depression to isolate yourself from those you love and suffer through the difficult emotions on your own. While it is suggested to speak with a counselor when you are feeling these challenging emotions to let your feelings and thoughts out in a practical, healthy manner, there are options for you to do this on your own each day. Journaling has been a highly effective tool for many individuals experiencing SAD. Putting your innermost thoughts and emotions out on paper and releasing them from your body is incredibly cathartic and helpful in processing the symptoms you are experiencing from your depression. As you release your feelings, you allow yourself to let go of those negative emotions and move into problem-solving or planning for a positive future. As you write down your thoughts, you will often be able to identify what triggers your depression and get clarity on how to mitigate future triggers to avoid feelings of depression and substance abuse.

4. Open the blinds

SAD is often brought on for many individuals due to a lack of sunlight. Outdoor activity is strongly encouraged to help increase your exposure to natural sunlight. But for those times that you cannot be outside, it is vital to open your blinds and allow natural light to come in. Sitting in a room with indoor lighting is often dim and perpetuates feelings of being in the dark, and increases feelings of depression. Each day allow the natural daylight to enter inside and choose to sit near an open window when you are working to allow as much exposure to natural light as possible.

Get Support for SAD at Muse

Muse Treatment offers patients comprehensive treatment methods that emphasize holistic, natural ways of healing from SAD and co-occurring substance use disorders. Through individualized therapy sessions and treatment programs, you will get personalized care from our licensed counselors to help you heal from your addictive behaviors while learning alternative methods of coping with the symptoms of SAD. Through evidence-based therapeutic models, you will develop the tools to identify triggering situations and emotions that fuel your addiction and symptoms of SAD and develop methods of managing unpleasant symptoms that will keep your health and well-being a top priority. Contact Muse Treatment today to speak with one of our friendly staff about seasonal affective disorder and substance abuse to begin your path of healing and freedom from addiction.

Drug Addiction,Mental Health,
Josh Chandler
Josh Chandler
After growing up in Chicago and North Carolina, Josh chose to get help with substance use disorder and mental health in California because of the state's reputation for top-tier treatment. There, he found the treatment he needed to achieve more than five years of recovery. He's been in the drug and alcohol addiction rehab industry for four years and now serves as the Director of Admissions for Resurgence Behavioral Health. Josh remains passionate about the field because he understands that one phone call can alter the course of a person's life.

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