Maintaining Your Recovery With Seasonal Affective Disorder

The changing of the seasons is a happy and exciting time for many people. The weather changes, the leaves start falling off the trees, and it can feel as though there’s a new beginning in the air.

Unfortunately, this is far from the truth for those who suffer from Seasonal Affective Disorder, or SAD. SAD is a type of mood disorder that is closely tied to the change in seasons. Although most people experience SAD during the long and dark days of winter, it can also be triggered by seasonal changes that happen in the spring and summer.

SAD can cause symptoms of depression:

● a loss of interest in normally pleasant activities

● feelings of hopelessness or worthlessness

● changes in sleep or appetite

● low energy or fatigue

● difficulty concentrating

● thoughts of death or suicide

Research has shown that SAD is linked to a number of things. Particularly for winter SAD, shorter days and less sunlight are thought to lead to changes in the serotonin and melatonin produced by our bodies, which affects our sleep and our mood. Decreased sunlight can also interrupt our bodies’ natural circadian rhythms which throws our mental health off balance.

If you suffer from SAD, you might find yourself feeling more and more depressed as the new season rolls into the world around you. Anyone in recovery from addiction knows that maintaining sobriety is hard enough as it is, and if you suffer from SAD symptoms, you might find it to be even harder during a seasonal transition.

There’s nothing we can do to prevent the seasons from changing. However, that doesn’t mean your addiction recovery journey needs to take a hit because you have SAD. Don’t resort to using substances when you feel depressed. If you find yourself feeling the winter (or summertime) blues, follow these tips to take care of your mental health and make sure you stay firmly on the road to recovery, no matter the time of year.

Exercise

Yes, we know you’ve been told this before. It’s for a good reason: research shows that regular exercise goes a long way in improving our mental health and reducing symptoms of depression. This is a good idea whether your depression is related to seasonal changes or not. If it’s too cold (or hot) outside to engage in your regular fitness activities, be creative in coming up with solutions: are there any at-home exercises you could do?

Get Outside

Hunkering down for days inside the house isn’t doing your mental health any good. Even though it may be cold, it’s important to get outside for a sufficient amount of time every day to make sure you’re soaking up all the Vitamin D that you can.

Go on Vacation

Although we realize that this option isn’t accessible to everyone, particularly in the time of Covid, it could do your mental health a world of good to change your environment if you’re feeling depressed. Particularly if you tend to experience symptoms of SAD during the transition to winter, it might be a good idea to travel to a sunnier, warmier location for a few days – just make sure you follow the other tips once you’re back in the dreary cold.

Organize Your Days

Anybody in recovery from addiction knows that boring, empty time can be a huge trigger for relapse. Make sure you’re structuring your days in a way that feels productive and healthy for you, so that you don’t find yourself with nothing at all (except for drink or use other substances) to do.

Reach Out

Make sure you’re staying connected with your support system during these difficult times. Whether that be your friends, your partner, or your sponsor, it’s important to make sure that you’re having regular contact with the people in your life who you know you can count on to support you during your recovery. If in person contact isn’t feasible, zoom and other video chats may be a good substitute temporarily.

Light Therapy

Many SAD-sufferers whose symptoms are linked to the dark winters use a light box to help curb the effects of the lack of daylight on their mental health. Light boxes are specially designed to mimic natural sunlight, which may help your brain start producing some of those “happy” chemicals that it needs. Make sure you talk to your doctor to be prescribed light therapy, as there is some evidence it might trigger manic episodes if you also have bipolar disorder.

Professional Support

Professional treatment for both your SAD symptoms and your recovery can be crucially important to manage the SAD without resorting to using substances. If you attend a peer group, don’t stop attending, even if it has to be virtually. Stay connected with that support system. In addition to groups, you may want to consider working with a mental health therapist or substance abuse counselor to help get you through these tough times. Some medications have also been shown to be helpful to combat the symptoms of SAD and make it easier to stay on the road to recovery.

The seasons may come and go, but your recovery doesn’t have to come and go with them. Follow these tips to make sure that you’re strong in your recovery from addiction even while struggling with SAD.