As much of the country curses the man who created Daylight Saving Time when the clocks “fall back” an hour, those with seasonal affective disorder (SAD) have much bigger concerns.
Dr. Lori Ryland, a licensed clinical psychologist and behavior analyst, says the time change has been shown to exacerbate symptoms of SAD.
“For those who struggle with SAD, this time of year is particularly challenging,” Ryland says. “SAD is often referred to as ‘seasonal depression’ and results in very noticeable fatigue, sadness, hopelessness, trouble sleeping, changes in appetite or weight, loss of interest in activities once enjoyed, and may even include thoughts of death.”
The National Institute of Mental Health considers SAD to be a type of depression “characterized by its recurrent seasonal pattern,” with symptoms lasting four to five months. Those changes can begin and end with seasonal changes, the institute states, with people feeling “down” during the fall and winter months with shorter days; and better in the spring, when daylight hours are longer.
For some people, SAD manifests in serious mood changes affecting how they feel, think and perform daily activities.
In addition to these symptoms, signs of depression may include sluggish or agitated feelings and difficulty concentrating. Symptoms associated specifically with winter-pattern SAD include oversleeping, overeating, weight gain and social withdrawal.
Some people also experience depressive episodes during the spring and summer months, known as summer depression, according to NIMH. But this is less common than the “winter blues” for which SAD is typically known. Symptoms specific to summer-pattern SAD include insomnia, poor appetite and weight loss, restlessness, agitation, anxiety and episodes of violent behavior.
Ryland says it is critical for people who suffer from SAD to notice when those symptoms arise so they can be addressed. Recognition also allows them to monitor changes in severity.
People can help the situation by trying to spend as much time as possible outside to get natural sunlight. When that is not possible, some people use lights designed specifically to help manage SAD symptoms, Ryland says.
People can also make behavioral changes. If they notice they are “doom scrolling” through frightening stories, it may be time to limit media consumption, she says. People also can maintain mindfulness to cope with stress. Books on that are available, and even brief daily practice can help keep people grounded, Ryland says.
People should also incorporate physical activities within their abilities — whether that means walking around the house or yard, a yoga DVD or video, or a few sets of strength training with dumbbells — into their daily routines. A sleep schedule that involves getting up and going to sleep around the same times each day, in a room with a comfortable temperature, is also important. People should eliminate unnecessary technology from the bedroom, too, Ryland says.
Plenty of water and whole, nutritious foods are also helpful. People tend to slip into less-than-healthful habits, including using alcohol and drugs, when they are stressed, Ryland says. Moderating consumption of or even avoiding such substances is important for one’s general health all times of year.
Maintaining relationships is also significantly important.
“Human beings are inherently social beings,” Ryland says. “Isolation can directly increase anxiety and stress level. Make it a point to spend time with your friends and family, even if it’s virtual.”
Medications and psychotherapy are also available to those affected by SAD, but the first step is seeking help from a therapist or family physician for diagnoses, she says.