Seasonal anxiety disorder is an unusual condition. During specific seasons - usually winter, but not always - a person experiences anxiety and depression for no obvious reason, other than the change in the season.
At first this condition was believed to be a myth, and it was blamed on the winter months typically being a tough time (holiday blues, colder weather, sicknesses, etc.), but now psychologists do believe that some people's mental health is affected by the change in seasons, and this can have an effect on your anxiety.
Do You Have Seasonal Anxiety?
Experiencing anxiety in certain seasons does occur. But you should note that even when it's seasonal, it's still anxiety, and it still requires similar anxiety treatments. Take my free 7 minute anxiety test to find out more.
Introduction to Seasonal Anxiety Disorder
Seasonal anxiety disorder is a layman term for seasonal affective disorder, except most people refer to it as "anxiety" when anxiety appears to be the primary symptom. Take my anxiety test to learn more. On the other hand, seasonal affective disorder is primarily depression, which can come with some anxiety symptoms, but where depression tends to be the primary issue.
Seasonal anxiety disorder, or SAD, is a complicated disorder where a person tends to experience more anxiety during certain months. Usually it's the winter months/colder months, but there are some people that seem to experience SAD during the summer months.
Possible Causes of Seasonal Anxiety Disorder
It's not entirely clear what leads to SAD, but most experts believe it has to do with exposure to sunlight. During the winter months, especially, most people (especially in today's society) get very little exposure to sunlight.
Sunlight excites melatonin, and may somehow play a role in serotonin (the neurotransmitter most commonly linked to anxiety). A subgroup of the population may be born with a gene mutation that requires sunlight in order to release positive (good feeling) neurotransmitters in the brain.
SAD isn't something that has a clear cause, but it appears almost certainly linked to sunlight and sleep rhythms, which are all affected by the seasons.
What is SAD Like?
Even though SAD may be linked to the seasons, the experience is not unlike most anxiety. In fact, the issues at play with SAD - like low serotonin - affect those with generalized anxiety disorder each and every day. The original disorder - seasonal affective disorder - isn't even considered separate from depression, but rather a different way of experiencing depression.
It's similar with anxiety. Seasonal anxiety disorder appears to simply be a different way to experience anxiety, where the anxiety occurs in certain seasons rather than year round.
How to Stop Seasonal Anxiety Disorder
One of the most amazing things about anxiety - and all mental health - is that even when a disorder is "caused" by something else, you can still control it by working your mental health.
Your mind has control over your ability to cope and the neurotransmitters it creates. Studies have shown that those born with low serotonin levels are born with anxiety, and yet if they learn proper coping strategies their serotonin levels actually increase.
So even though you may have the symptoms of SAD, your anxiety really is under your control. Researchers generally recommend the following:
- More Light/Light Therapy Clearly the most pressing need is to try to get more light in your life. Psychologists have actually proven that something called "light therapy" where you shine a bright light in your face for an extended period of time seems to control SAD symptoms. But you can also try to get outdoors more and into the sun.
- Exercise Exercise is also a crucial part of an effective anxiety management strategy. Exercise releases neurotransmitters that improve mood, while simultaneously burning away stress hormones and excess energy. It's very important that you're actively exercising to help control some of your anxiety.
- Spending Time With Others It's also very important that you spend time around others. With something like seasonal anxiety, the issue isn't only that winter causes your brain to create anxiety - it's also that winter brings on a bunch of issues that can create anxiety, such as more time alone in your room. Make sure you're out and active, even if you don't feel like you want to be.
SAD is a tough condition, and the fact that it's still a little bit difficult to understand makes it unusual to treat. But like all anxiety, SAD can be treated. By making smart decisions that allow you to cope with your life stresses and experiences, you can drastically reduce the impact that it has on your life.
I've helped hundreds of those with seasonal anxiety control their symptoms. Start with my free anxiety test, which provides you with useful information about what it's like living with anxiety and how to reduce it.
Author: Micah Abraham, BSc Psychology, last updated Sep 28, 2017.