Changing Leaves and Changing Feelings

The fall is a very interesting time – we see the leaves change through beautiful colors (depending on where you live) but know that winter is right around the corner. The changes in the amount of daylight can have a strong emotional impact. It’s very true that as the leaves change, so can our mental and emotional health. The two most common things people experience during that time are Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD) and Autumn Anxiety.

According to Psychology Today, more than 10 million Americans report being affected by SAD, and another 10 to 20 percent of the population experience mild symptoms without ever being diagnosed. Seasonal Affective Disorder typically affects four times as many women as men, and is typically diagnosed between ages 18 and 30. Autumn Anxiety and SAD share many of the same symptoms, including fatigue, depression, anxiety, irritability, lethargy, and a general loss of interest in daily activities.

What Causes SAD and Autumn Anxiety?

Despite the fact that SAD and Autumn Anxiety affect millions of people in the United States each year, scientists aren’t actually sure exactly what causes the two conditions. There are several theories as to the causes, and it may be true that the exact cause is different for each person. One of the more prevalent theories is that the longer periods of darkness cause our bodies to produce more melatonin, which can make us feel sleepy or lethargic. Another theory is that lack of exposure to sunlight decreases vitamin D production, and vitamin D is tied to serotonin production. It may be a combination of the two, or something else, but scientists aren’t clear what causes symptoms similar to clinical depression.

I think I may have this… Now what?

If you think you may be suffering symptoms which may indicate SAD or Autumn Anxiety, the best first step is to see a professional and get a diagnosis. There are many things that can be done to manage and treat these conditions, but it all starts with a solid diagnosis.

Once you have been diagnosed, your provider can assist you in finding treatment and management strategies that work for you. These may include:

  • Treatment – your particular treatment plan may include light therapy, vitamin D or other supplements, counseling, and perhaps antidepressants.
  • A Sleep Schedule – establishing a sleep schedule has several benefits: It allows you to wake refreshed and ready; it can help with mental clarity and a positive attitude; and, it can allow you to maximize your daylight hours and increase vitamin D production.
  • Exercise – while the feelings of lethargy may make it hard to get started, exercise can provide many benefits, including mental clarity, getting you out in the sunlight, and improving your sleep. Plus it makes you healthier overall.

In addition to these aspects of treatment and management, it’s important to maintain a solid support system. This is especially true for anyone who is living a life of recovery or sobriety, as feelings of depression or anxiety can be triggers for relapse. Staying in touch with your personal and professional support systems can make getting through this much less stressful and lead to more positive outcomes. Remember: You do not have to do it all by yourself.