What is SAD and How it Impacts Your Life Abroad
DISCLAIMER: We are not healthcare professionals. Still, we can see how stigmas around “living your best you” while living abroad can hinder our capacity to face issues and we want you to know that, if this is your situation, you are not alone. We recognize that right now is an extra-difficult time and encourage you to reach out to someone you care about or a professional if you are having any serious issues.
We don’t know about you but we have been feeling a little bit all over the place emotionally in the last couple of weeks. While this idea of SAD is something that we have always known about, this year it seems to be a little bit stronger than normal. Which is why we want to dive into this subject a bit more in this post.
What is SAD?
For most of us who grew up in places where winters are long and cold (like both Dani and Claudia did), the idea of SAD or Seasonal Affective Disorder was something we definitely heard about. This disorder is a type of depression that is related to the changes in the seasons. While we tend to think of SAD as something that impacts us most during the winter months—oftentimes when we get less daylight—in some cases, people may feel SAD when in other seasonal changes such as in spring or early summer.
What we can see is that people who suffer from SAD (and the percentages vary depending on the country or region you live in) tend to experience feeling low every year at the same time. Depending on the person, the impact can be lighter or more intense and while we see that many people are able to deal with the impacts of SAD themselves, many others may want to discuss their situation with a medical professional.
How does it affect us most?
We want you all to know that just because we live abroad, it doesn’t mean that we don’t have ups and downs, and we definitely just get sad sometimes like we talk about in this post. However, SAD as a form of depression is when you feel low for a much longer period of time and may be related to feelings of no energy or being moody. If you have moved somewhere with a different climate, this may come as a complete or unexpected shock to you because you haven’t experienced these feelings before. In addition, you might have heard of SAD referred to colloquially as the “winter blues,” which may feel like someone is romanticizing the whole situation if you are feeling really depressed.
If you cannot understand why you are so tired, feel your sleeping or eating patterns have changed, or are having difficulty concentrating, you might be dealing with milder symptoms of SAD. More serious symptoms can include feeling very negatively about yourself and the situation around you or contemplating self harm. As we are all rather unique individuals, our non-medical perspective is that many of us may be having similar but different ways that SAD can impact our everyday lives.
Note: We have previously shared this resource guide for mental health support abroad and we want you to know that asking for help is a great first step to finding a balance for you, your hormones, and the environment around you.
When is SAD a problem?
In our own experience, we think that mental health becomes something you want to look at with a healthcare professional when it starts to impact your quality of life and your ability to live the way you would like to. In addition, you might discover, upon self reflection, that SAD is pushing you towards substance abuse (such as alcohol or other drugs). Finally, if you are considering self harm, you should reach out to a professional who can support you with all the thoughts you are having.
However, one thing that you should keep in mind is that if you think it might be a problem, even if you are not necessarily feeling any of the above things, we think that it is probably worth reaching out to someone who can talk you through SAD and other forms of depression. Self awareness is one of the greatest tools we have, so don’t be afraid to use it!
How does the current situation impact us?
We do try to avoid the whole topic of COVID over here on the blog when we can because it is not the most positive thing to talk about. However, one of the reasons we wanted to talk about SAD so much is that we see how this winter seems to be hitting our friends and family hard, around the globe. We are living a world that seems more uncertain than normal and while this may lead to things like anxiety (which we talk about here), it can also impact how you are dealing with the winter months.
One of the most impactful things that we think has come out of the whole scenario is this feeling of separation that we have from friends and family. Feeling alone or isolated can amplify negative thoughts we have about ourselves and the environment around us and COVID has created a world where things are different than before. We don’t want to “blame” this situation for the things we are feeling but we do want to make sure that we are giving ourselves a little bit of extra space because the world we are living in is not “normal” and that takes extra emotional energy too.
What can you do about SAD?
Like most advice we give, the first thing we can recommend is giving yourself the space to recognize that something is not as it should be. It is okay to be off and it is okay to feel down. We don’t think there is something wrong with you if you are feeling depressed and definitely think that asking for help when you need it is a better option than trying to push through everything alone. Sometimes a partner, a friend, or a parent can be enough to get your feelings off your chest but, sometimes, you may want to see a professional. We know we’ve repeated it a lot now but we truly believe that there are people that can support you in your mental health journey better than we can.
Now, if you don’t feel like you need to go to a professional, there are still some things you can do to support your own wellbeing. One of the first things that is recommended is to do light therapy with a special light that will activate areas of your brain in a way that mimics sunlight. Nowadays, it is easy and relatively inexpensive to get your own light if you just search for “Light Therapy Lamp” on Amazon but you want to keep in mind three things: the light intensity, the duration of exposure, and when you do the light therapy during the day. The Mayo Clinic shares this article on light therapy that we would recommend checking out if you are considering purchasing your own lamp.
Another thing you can try to do is make sure you are taking care of your body and mind. This means making sure you are taking care with your diet and exercise to eat the right kinds of foods and to move your body. In addition, activities like meditation or other relaxation exercises can help you reduce feelings of anxiety or stress. Please note that none of these techniques will get rid of serious depression but they can help support you through some lighter SAD symptoms.
We hope that this article has been useful for you. If you have questions or best practices, leave them down below in the comments. And we wish you the best of luck through the end of the winter season. Don’t worry, spring will come again.