Portland Therapy Blog

Portland Therapy Blog

Local experts share the latest information and resources on all things mental health.

Winter is Coming: Time to Treat Seasonal Affective Disorder

Posted: November 09, 2015 by [email protected]

We are over a week removed from turning our clocks back, throwing all of our circadian rhythms completely out of whack. Cooler air and more rain are accompanying darker days, and we have approximately seven months of grey skies to look forward to. It is a perfect environment for many Portlanders to experience a Seasonal Affective Disorder.

Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD) is a form of depression that is linked to a change in weather patterns. Typically it occurs as winter approaches, and is characterized by mood changes, lethargy, hopelessness, irritability, difficulty waking, overeating, social withdrawal, anxiety, and difficulty concentrating.

One of the most commonly known treatment options is phototherapy, also known as light-therapy. This is where sitting under a bright lamp is used to improve wellbeing. There even was a light-therapy cafe, Lightbar, in Portland at one point.

However, recent studies suggest that talk therapy is a more effective in treating SAD than light-therapy. Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT) is found to have longer lasting benefits and allows for clients to build the skills to better handle the symptoms, as opposed to merely suppressing them by sitting under a bright light.

If you aren’t quite ready to dive into therapy but find yourself having greater difficulty than normal this year, all hope is not lost. Although you may be experiencing elements of SAD, here are three suggestions to combat the symptoms:

Get outside: Grab your jacket, throw on some boots, and head out into the weather. Smell the air, see the rain drops land in a puddle, hear the wind through the leaves. Be present and aware of the shift in the weather pattern. Outdoor light, even with cloud cover, can help. Getting out in the morning is even better to get the day started right. A central tenet to my practice is that having a positive relationship with the natural world improves wellbeing. My office is in a yurt, which offers an experiential opportunity to connect to the outdoors (albeit a warmer and dryer opportunity). The yurt is nestled within a garden and under the foliage of large trees. On those dreary and wet days, the atmosphere in the yurt is inviting. The pitter-patter on the roof provides calmness, while watching the leaves blow in the wind through the dome skylight is mesmerizing. Seeing the garden outside soaking up the moisture reminds of the replenishment found in the return of the rains. Being connected and aware of these natural occurrences can lead to an improvement in emotional well-being.

Hang out with someone: Whether you call an old friend, meet someone for coffee, or see a therapist, having social time is helpful in reducing the symptoms of SAD.

Exercise: Exercise is always helpful, but especially so when the weather gets grim. Exercise will help with lowering stress and easing anxiety. Head to the gym, take a run in Forest Park, or bike in the rain.

So this fall, take care of yourself and use these simple tips to combat SAD and promote wellness as the seasons shift.

Tags: mood and feelings, anxiety