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Women and Seasonal Affective Disorder: You're not making it up, it's real

If you're like most moms at Sage Tree Therapy, you might have approached each coming fall and winter season with dread. You aren’t making it up. You aren’t alone. And there are effective treatments out there that can help, so you can stop the suffering.

Daylight savings time hit me hard this year. The shorter days, intense pitch black darkness and time shift really messed with my energy levels and sleep. This time of year can also be challening for families with little chidren, because of their sleep cycles. Suddenly everything is shifted and whether we realize it or not, we've been programmed to eat at a certain time and our tummies are telling us we're hungry, but our clocks are saying it's too early. Similarly kiddos (and me too) found themselves ready for bed way earlier than usual - which doesn't sound bad...until your toddler wants to wake up and is ready to start their day a whole hour earlier. This can feel like crazy-making! We want to have as much control as possible over our daily schedule.

This concept comes up in sessions again and again. More times than not, when I ask moms if they're affected by the time change the resounding answer is YES I HATE IT! This time change will soon cease, but the changing of the seasons is something we're "lucky" enough to experience here in the midwest. Those seasonal changes are increasing in intensity and like time changes, have a direct connection to our mood, emotions and behaviors.

How can the change of seasons affect our mood?

It’s common to feel a little down and less energetic during the late fall and winter—and that’s reason enough to start to think about what we can do to get through these dark months. This is what I call "coping ahead".

If your symptoms are persistent and start to impact your everyday functioning, it might meet criteria for seasonal affective disorder (SAD), which typically consists of symptoms of major depression, specifically linked to changes in seasons. And if you do, you aren’t alone—it’s estimated that up to 10 million Americans are affected by it each year. Certain symptoms are heightened with SAD, including increased sleep, increased carbohydrate consumption, decreased energy, decreased pleasure in daily activities, and social withdrawal.

Raise your hand if you can related to cuddling up in bed, turning off text notifications, grabbing a jumbo bag of popcorn and binge watching true crime on tv. *me flailing my hands wildly!* We might not feel out of this 'funk' until March or April when the sun starts shining again.

Why do seasonal changes affect women so commonly?

According to the National Institute of Mental Health, SAD occurs much more commonly in women than men, in about a 4:1 ratio. In addition to gender, other risk factors include young adulthood—generally beginning in your 20s to 30s—and a personal history of a mood disorder, such as depression. It’s not entirely clear why SAD affects women so much more often (and certain populations, such as pregnant women, are still excluded from most clinical research studies, leading to a lack of data overall about major health issues in women.) It may be that reduced sunlight affects serotonin, a brain chemical that impacts mood—and that the reproductive hormone estrogen impacts serotonin in turn. Melatonin, an important hormone in circadian rhythms, increases during dark days and can negatively impact our normal sleep-wake cycle, which is crucial for maintaining a stable mood.

How to combat SAD

Self-care, rinse and repeat. Find a self-care practice you can focus on and enhance by making small tweaks. Like improving your sleep hygiene, or reducing your stress level by setting boundaries, or changing what you're eating or drinking every day. START SMALL, pick one small new habit and work on consistently doing that thing for a week or two before adding more to the mix. Trying to change too much at once tends to backfire and before we know it we find ourselves back in bed with carbs for days at a time.

Find your "Sweet Spot of Self-Care" Our sleeping and eating habits as well as our stress level and energy are all connected to our ability to take care of ourselves adequately. For quick and easy ways to impact our entire self-care cycle, thus reducing the negative impact of Seasonal Affective Disorder, check out "The Sweet Spot of Self-Care Workbook for Moms" here You'll find tons of info on where to start when it comes to self-care and how to get to know yourself better so you can incorporate the most effective practices into your routine.

Ask for what you need. If your energy levels or eating and sleeping habits are bothering you, talk to a mental health professional. The team at Sage Tree Therapy is ready and able to help you identify what you need this time of year and how to ease the dread of SAD. We use evidence-based cognitive behavioral therapy techniques as well as assessing you for other interventions including medication with a reproductive health psychiatrist.


Elizabeth Stallone-Lowder MSW, LCSW

Founder & Lead Therapist

Sage Tree Therapy


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