I hate the winter months. Though I’ve lived in Florida for almost two decades, where even in the winter we have sunshine and warmth, I struggle during this season. Specifically, I struggle with Seasonal Affective Disorder, or SAD.
The time around the holidays can bring about a mix of emotions. For many, there is joy and nostalgia; we look forward to being with family and friends, continuing or creating traditions. It’s a time of celebration, rejoicing, and good cheer. For some though, this season — both before and right after the holidays — can bring about feelings of sadness, overwhelm, and anxiety. If that sounds like you, you’re not alone.
What is SAD?
Many people know it as the “winter blues”, that feeling of heaviness during the winter months when the sun has a hard time shining and negative feelings come to the forefront of our minds. The dark outside seems to call out the dark inside and we feel the time drag on, like sandpaper against skin — this is what it feels like to experience Seasonal Affective Disorder.
I’ve mentioned before that I battle depression. I talk about it, I tell my story, to help ease the stigma that still surrounds mental health and to bring awareness to resources that are available to help. So, I’d like to share a little more from personal experience.
For me, SAD includes a number of symptoms. I have a hard time concentrating and being able to focus. I don’t have great sleeping patterns; I sleep too much or far too little. I’ve been called a Grinch or a Scrooge because I cannot get into the Christmas spirit, and I don’t look forward to a new year.
In addition, old insecurities rear their ugly heads, and my thoughts go to dark places. I don’t feel like the me that I have fought to become during my mental health journey, and I know I won’t again until the spring. SAD — which I must admit is a fitting acronym for this disorder — is a real thing that I learn to live with.
Types of SAD
Winter-pattern SAD, the one that this disorder is most often linked to, is the most common type. While researchers don’t know exactly what causes SAD to occur in millions of adult Americans, the prevailing theory is that the reduction of Vitamin D due to fewer hours of daylight exacerbates the symptoms. Sunlight helps regulate the mood by maintaining certain levels of serotonin, the “happy hormone”, and melatonin, the “sleep hormone”, in the brain.
As such, the darkening days of winter make it hard to feel any sort of positive emotions and “get into the spirit” of holiday-related activities. People with winter-pattern SAD might have a sense of hopelessness, could tend to be more irritable, and may even be in physical pain.
SAD should not be confused with what is informally known as the “holiday blues”, those feelings of sadness or anger that are brought on by the holiday stress. While SAD can, and often does, coincide with the winter holidays, SAD itself is related to the change in the sunlight and season, not the holidays.
While there is less research on it, summer-pattern SAD does exist. Long, often hot and humid days also interfere with the production of serotonin and melatonin, causing people to sleep longer and producing changes in behavior and mood.
Coping with SAD
As believers, we have a great resource available to help us manage SAD: the Word of God. There are many scriptures throughout the Bible that provide comfort. The following verses offer a great point of reference, a guide for us to be able to pray for those who may struggle this time of year, including ourselves.
- Psalm 23:1-4 reminds us of the spiritual restoration offered by our Good Shepherd.
- Psalm 32:7-8 shows us that God is the best counselor.
- Psalm 121:1-8 tells of the Lord’s eternal help, even in the dark.
- Psalm 145:18-19 reminds us that God is near, merely a call (prayer) away.
- Matthew 11:28-29 is a look at how we find true rest for our souls.
- John 14:27 offers ultimate peace.
- 2 Corinthians 1:2-11 tells us how to access abundant comfort and hope.
- 2 Corinthians 4:16-18 speaks of spiritual renewal.
- Revelation 21:3-4 looks forward to the time of no more tears.
- 1 Peter 5:6-7 tells us to cast our anxiety on the One who cares for us.
If you are experiencing SAD and need more help, there are amazing organizations like the American Association of Christian Counselors and Focus on the Family that provide Christ-centered options and assistance for mental health. They build on the faith we already have in Christ to form their practice and treatments. Medi-Share members also have 24/7 access to behavioral health counseling through our partner, Careington. Information can be found in your Member Center.