Winter Blues: Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD) and OCD

I can not wait for winter to end. Do not get me wrong: I love mulled wine, snow, Christmas and New Year’s Eve is always very fun, however, I’ve been suffering from Seasonal Affective Disorder (or more commonly known as the “winter blues“) since my teenage years.

What is Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD?)

It is a form of depression that occurs at the same time each year – usually during the winter, but there’s a rare form of SAD that is known as summer depression. In my case, it usually starts in fall and gets much worse in January – yes, that’s why I have chosen this topic for today’s post! It’s the 17th of January and I feel that I can no longer see the light at the end of the tunnel. Okay, this sounded a little bit exaggerated and do not get me wrong: I am not fed up with my life and overall, I am pretty happy but it’s still pretty difficult for me to beat the winter blues.

And lately, I’ve been wondering about one more thing: does Seasonal Affective Disorder make my OCD worse? So, this is the question that I’ll try to answer in today’s post.

How common is Seasonal Affective Disorder?

We can say that it’s pretty common but it also depends on where you’re coming from. I’m from Budapest, Hungary – a country that’s on the same latitude as North Dakota – and in my country 1 out of 10 people suffer from the winter blues.

Why is it so common?

I do not know what winters are like in your city, but in mine, they are definitely not easy to “survive” if you’re suffering from a mental disorder. I know a lot of people love winter and most of my friends would tell me that I’m exaggerating and that winters in Budapest are not that bad – and to be honest, I do not disagree with them. I do think that January in Budapest would be very enjoyable if I did not have Obsessive Compulsive Disorder and Generalized Anxiety Disorder. But unfortunately, living with two different anxiety disorders can make it very hard to live through winter.
Not sure what Obsessive Compulsive Disorder is? Check: Frequently Asked Questions about OCD

The most difficult thing for me is that I can barely see daylight: it’s still dark when I go to the office and it’s already dark when I leave work. I do not mind cold weather, but the lack of sunshine always makes me feel anxious and hopeless.

What are the symptoms of Seasonal Affective Disorder?

So, I’ve just said that the lack of sunshine made me feel hopeless. But it’s not the only thing. The symptoms of SAD may also include:
feeling sad
losing interest in activities – for me, January is definitely the most difficult month of the year and together with that, it’s also the least productive one: I just do not feel like doing anything.
changes in your appetite and eating habits – in my case, this means a lot of chocolate
increased need for sleep – I’ve always been a night owl, but during winter, it’s even more difficult for me to wake up in the morning
anxiety
having difficulty concentrating
– and in extreme cases: having thoughts of death or suicide

Causes

I’ve done a little bit of research on this (books, websites and talking to psychologists) and what I have found out was that the exact causes of seasonal affective disorder are still unclear but the most likely one is the lack of sunshine. (That’s why it’s more common in countries that are far from the equator)

Want to read more about the causes of SAD? Check this WebMD article

Is there a link between OCD and Seasonal Affective Disorder?

I’ve found a pretty interesting study on this topic. It says that half of OCD patients have seasonal mood changes – and according to the same study, 1 in 4 people (without OCD) reported to have mood swings.

Click here to see more info about this study.

Does OCD get worse in winter?

One thing that I’d like to tell you before sharing my opinion is that I am not a certified psychiatrist and I have not conducted any research on this topic. I’m just a guy who’s been suffering from OCD for a decade and who likes sharing his own experiences.

My OCD definitely gets worse in the winter. And to be honest, I do not exactly know why this happens, but I think that it’s not only because of the lack of sunshine or the cold weather. I guess it’s a question of lifestyle. As I have mentioned earlier, during the winter months, it’s much more difficult for me to wake up in the morning, so this means that I drink much more coffee than usual – and as we know, if you’re suffering form an anxiety disorder, it’s better to avoid caffeine.
You may say I’m a hypocrite: I keep telling people that it was better not to have caffeinated drinks if they’re suffering from anxiety, yet I am addicted to coffee. It’s like preaching water but drinking wine. But I think everyone has their own weaknesses and mine is coffee.

Another thing that makes my OCD worse is the feeling of hopelessness. I love the holiday season so December is one of my favorite months of the year, however, January is a completely different thing: it’s a month that I have to survive. And the feeling of hopelessness is often accompanied by the lack of motivation – they are such a beautiful couple, are they not? So as I am not motivated to do anything, I give myself more free time: more time to overthink everything, more time to worry about insignificant things and more time to act on my compulsions.

How to beat the winter blues?

Thanks for God, there’s a way out. Again, I do not want to be a hypocrite: I’m struggling with winter blues, but I’ll share with you a list of things that help me a lot:

1. Get as much light as you can
Sunshine is very important so go for a walk whenever you have a break at work/school. Today, I went for a longer walk during my lunch break and it made me feel so much better.

2. Keep yourself busy
One of the symptoms of Seasonal Affective Disorder is the lack of motivation. However, it’s important to keep yourself busy.

3. Go out with your friends
I’ve always been a very social person and during winter I go out almost every single night. Of course, it’s not the best idea to run away from your problems and drown your sorrows in alcohol but it’s important to socialize!

4. Exercise
I know this sounds pretty clichΓ©e but it is important. I’ve never liked going to the gym so I’ve found other forms of exercise that worked for me such as running or hiking.

And I enjoy going for long night walks in my city, Budapest.

Source: Szeretlek Magyarorszag
https://www.szeretlekmagyarorszag.hu/wp-content/uploads/2016/10/bp_nemeth_zsolt_1.jpg


5. Travel
Traveling can be very expensive but you do not have to go to exotic places to enjoy yourself. A city break with your friends can also help you overcome your winter blues.

6. Light Therapy
I am planning to try this one because I’ve heard that it helps a lot. So I’ll share my light therapy experiences with you on my blog.
However, one thing that helps me even though it’s dangerous: tanning bed. I know a lot of people will not agree with this one. There’s no safe amount of tanning and those who use tanning beds are at high risk for developing melanoma. Furthermore, research says that tanning beds do not ease SAD symptoms. So it may be placebo but using a tanning bed will usually make me happier. I really do not want to promote indoor tanning and please do not follow my example – the reason why I have mentioned this one is because my blog is my safe place” , where I feel that I can talk openly about myself and my mental problems.

How do you cope with the winter blues?

As you know, there’s one more thing that I enjoy more than writing my stories: reading yours. So please do not hesitate to share your thoughts in the comment section! πŸ™‚

Mark Wester

13 thoughts on “Winter Blues: Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD) and OCD

  1. I find the lack of daylight has an effect on my mood but this winter is so soft that it feels like a sunny fall.
    I mostly struggle with spring. It takes some effort to ‘survive’ winter but to have new energy to start all over again. That is the most time for me and makes me feel really hopeless.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Ah yeah, that’s right – this year winter is pretty mild πŸ™‚ for me the most difficult part of the year is the last 2 weeks of January.
      Hope this spring will be easier for you!
      To me, spring means allergy season, I love nature but spring is the part of the year when I’m very glad that I live in the city center

      Liked by 1 person

  2. Winter, blah! Right now it’s below freezing and raining huge drops of slush. I don’ feel like doing anything except poke at my computer (which is the one area of my life where OCD is the most obviously present these days). I don’t know if I have SAD but I definitely have the opposite. In the spring and summer (and even the fall) i love getting outdoors to do stuff. This time of the year, it’s the couch for me.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. same here – it’s very cold today but to be honest I am kind of happy because finally we got some snow so the city looks less depressing :))))
      To be honest, I’d do the same like I really do not feel like doing anything but I’m forcing myself to go out as much as I can because staying and home is never a good idea for me: I’d just start overthinking every single thing I’ve done and at the end, it would give me an anxiety attack πŸ˜€
      But I can not wait for spring!

      Liked by 1 person

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