One of my best friends in college switched all her college-issued 60-watt bulbs to environmentally friendly, 100 watt bulbs, bought more lamps and kept her blinds open all day.
Puzzled, my friends and I noticed other changes too; she joined a few clubs off campus, made time for enjoyable activities and made a few other distinct changes in her life because she was sad. She was suffering with SAD, Seasonal Affective Disorder.
At the time, I didn’t understand her, or what she was going through, but the more I listened to her, the more I realized that she was right. The bubbly, energetic person I first met in college was not the same. The harshness of the winter, compounded by the short hours of bleak winter light in Massachusetts was taking its toll.
We were both native Texans, although she had grown up in Austin, where winter is scarce. Being from North Texas, I had experienced more of “real” winter than she had. Although it was different for both of us, we had similar experiences Sadness lasting most of the day nearly every day, low energy, problems sleeping, appetite changes, difficulty concentrating and other symptoms. According the Mayo Clinic and the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual IV (DSM IV), these are symptoms that occur for SAD, which is a sub type of Major Depression. A more comprehensive description may be found on the Mayo Clinic website:
Before you decide you have SAD consider the following:
1. Think about your personal experiences.
Are you facing one or more major life changes, good or bad? Are there any medical factors that could be contributing to your emotional state? Is there a family history of depression? There are many factors that should be reviewed before you tag yourself with SAD. A mental health professional is best equipped to review your history and make a determination about what is going on.
2. Don’t try to handle it by yourself.
For me, simple changes to my routine, and yes, changing my light bulbs helped tremendously. For others, including my friend, she needed more than the simple changes.
3. Note the changes in your life.
I applaud my friend for noticing the emotional changes in her life and then seeking the help she needed, which is a very difficult step to take. It takes courage to face the truth about inner sadness. Sometimes putting into words what one is feeling is just as wearisome. The best move toward living a healthier life is to note major changes to behaviors, emotions, thoughts and physical symptoms and then to proceed with getting the right help.
4. Make a decision to seek help and act on it.
My friend realized that SAD and other life changes were affecting her classwork, her lifestyle and diminishing who she was in general. She made her choice and acted on it. To know what is best for you, see a counselor who can help you work out a plan that fits your situation and your needs.
(This blog is NOT prescriptive and does not replace what a professional counselor provides. This blog post and other posts found here are general bits of wisdom that should be applied to your life with careful consideration)
Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, Fourth Edition, Text Revision. Washington, DC, American Psychiatric Association, 2000.
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