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Surviving Winter Blues During Recovery

Surviving Winter Blues During Recovery

Winter months can be challenging for recovering individuals who struggle with seasonal affective disorder (SAD). SAD is a form of depression that usually occurs during colder months due to shortened daylight hours and lack of exposure to the sun. Though it is not chronic depression, it is a legitimate mental health concern, and if left untreated, it may undermine your recovery progress. With preparation and reinforced self-care techniques, you can cope well even when winter blues come around this year.

The Impact of Seasonal Affective Disorder 

Have you noticed that your mood tends to plummet once winter comes around? Do you tend to feel depressed due to the cold weather and decreased sunshine? Are you worried about the emotional hit brought by isolating snowy days? SAD is real, and there are many causal factors behind it.

With less sunlight in winter, your brain produces lower amounts of serotonin. Serotonin is the brain chemical passenger that helps regulate mood. Lower serotonin tends to make you feel down and depressed. Meanwhile, melatonin production can also be disrupted due to a lack of sunlight. This can throw off your sleep patterns. In sum, winter months and fewer hours of sun exposure shift the body’s hormonal production, leading to chronic exhaustion, brain fog, depressed moods, and other physical and mental changes.

As a result of these changes, you may develop symptoms of anxiety, depression, insomnia, hypersomnia, and other mental health disorders. Not everyone recognizes or understands the cyclical pattern of these symptoms. Being able to identify a seasonal pattern of depression can help you assess whether you are experiencing SAD. 

Clinically Diagnosing and Treating Seasonal Affective Disorder 

SAD is often difficult to diagnose because it shares similar symptoms with other conditions. Diagnosis usually requires a thorough evaluation, including a physical exam, lab tests (including a complete blood screen), and a psychological evaluation.

Many antidepressants can effectively treat SAD. Common medications include bupropion (Wellbutrin XL, Aplenzin). Your healthcare provider may suggest you take an antidepressant before your SAD symptoms emerge. It usually takes a few weeks to experience the full effects of an antidepressant that suits your needs. You may even need to try different medications before landing on the best one.

If you are in recovery and struggle with SAD, you may want to consider some form of therapy alongside medication to manage your symptoms. Research shows that continuous cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT) can reduce the recurrence of SAD and improve the chances of remission in two to three years. When combined with light therapy, the effectiveness of CBT can be greatly boosted.

Effective Self-Care Techniques for Overcoming Seasonal Affective Disorder

When you feel depressed, self-care may be the last thing you want to do. Therefore, you need to be prepared with self-care strategies long before the symptoms of SAD arrive. In late autumn of each year, try to establish a proactive regimen to prepare for the upcoming battle.

Preventative measures include taking vitamin D or antidepressants daily, using a light therapy device, staying active, enjoying the outdoors, and committing to regular attendance in group therapy. Because winter blues often lead to low energy levels, sluggishness, and loss of interest in activities, you can work to reverse these trends by doubling down in these areas.

Attempting a winter sport can be fun and good for boosting your mood. Join a winter sports club or your local gym’s winter classes. Alternatively, plan a winter getaway to a vacation destination with more sunlight and outdoor activity.

Doubling Down on Winter Relapse Prevention 

If you struggle with SAD, you must reinforce your relapse prevention plan before the winter months arrive. Talk with a recovery expert about padding in additional support to combat SAD. They may suggest you increase the frequency of therapy sessions during winter months so that you can make meaningful changes to your mood in real-time. Additionally, they may recommend extra support group meetings, light therapy, or medication.

Building resilience in recovery during winter months is important and possible. From implementing proper nutritional intake and trying medication to attending support meetings and working with a sponsor, you can mobilize all components of your relapse prevention plan to cope with seasonal depression. For some people, a few years of doubling down on relapse prevention during winter months can even heal them from SAD.

SAD can be challenging for recovering individuals. If you’re one of those people, know that those seasonal feelings are part of how the body communicates. When symptoms begin to emerge in late fall, it is time to pause and check in with yourself. Self-awareness can prevent pitfalls, and more self-care techniques can help you cope better. Last but not least, you should not struggle with depression alone, whether it is seasonal or not. Reaching out for help from family, friends, and health professionals is also a form of self-care.

With winter months here, many people are beginning to suffer from seasonal affective disorder (SAD). When addiction recovery coincides with this condition, you may need to double down your self-care efforts and lifestyle adjustments. Laguna Shores Recovery offers traditional therapies, holistic therapies, and a strong alumni program to help you navigate SAD and balance your recovery throughout winter. At Laguna Shores Recovery, our experienced mental health professionals and compassionate staff know how to help you achieve wellness. We have helped many recovering individuals heal from depression while maintaining sobriety. It is never too late to learn about effective self-care practices. Call us today at (866) 229-9923 to discover how you can be part of our community.