We often hear in the media talk about seasonal affective disorder (SAD), which tends to affect individuals during the fall and winter months. But, believe it or not, seasonal changes and effects on mood are actually quite normal all year-round, especially for people on the autism spectrum.
If you feel worse during the winter - and you clear up later - you may have the winter blues. However, spring or summer too can cause SAD. Check if there is a seasonal pattern year after year that affects your basic functioning (e.g., sleeping, eating, mating, social behavior, weight, mood, energy level, etc.).
How to overcome a negative mood that occurs during spring:
- Avoid excessive use of alcohol, caffeine, nicotine, or any other substance to overcome sluggishness and lethargy.
- Depressed mood makes one sluggish and sleepy. Sleeping excessively may actually increase depression. Therefore, force yourself to wake up in the morning (e.g., 6:00 AM rather than 9:00 AM – even on weekends). The sun comes up earlier in the spring, and so can you!
- To warm up in the morning, engage in a brisk and pleasurable activity (e.g., laughter with a comedy or slapstick humor DVD, walking the dog around the neighborhood, etc.).
- Plant some flowers, or cultivate a backyard garden.
- Exercise regularly, preferably outdoors (if the weather is stormy, go to the gym).
- Find a few friends and have a backyard barbeque on the grill. The important thing here to is stay social - the activity itself doesn't matter that much.
- Go to a park where there are other people and where you can move about freely. While you're there, get on the swing and relive your childhood for a moment.
- Hunger and craving for sweets and starches is common in SAD. People eat to beat the blues, and many of them become "carbohydrate addicts." Upset by the weight gain, they start dieting, which makes them a "yo-yo dieter." To avoid that, eat balanced meals that are high in complex carbohydrates and protein. Consult a meal chart and plan a 7-day program that is replete with the favor of vegetables, fruits, and grains.
- Try to take a summer vacation (preferably for at least 3-4 days), or plan frequent weekend “get-aways” throughout the summer months.
- Lastly, get an evaluation to check if you need counseling or medication for depression.
One young man with AS states, "One of the most helpful ways to ensure exercise, I've found, is to a) sign up for an event and b) make sure the event is connected to a meaningful cause. Both factors increase my motivation to continue to exercise in the spring and summer."
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