Seasonal Affective Disorder and Cancer
Anywhere from late summer to late fall it, when starts to get cold and there is less and less daylight, many of us start to feel physically sluggish and emotionally spent, like we have the” winter blues.” It is not unusual to feel depressed or sad during the months of November, December, January, and February.
For some people, however, the sadness we experience during the shorter days is severe. When the winter blues start to affect your quality of life, it is called seasonal affective disorder (SAD), or seasonal depression, or winter depression. SAD symptoms can have an adverse impact on even the healthiest and happiest of people.
When you are undergoing cancer treatments, experiencing symptoms of seasonal affective disorder, which are often similar to the side effects of chemo and radiation, can make life with cancer more challenging.
Unfortunately, during the dark winter months, cancer patients might be more prone to an even greater depth of depression and fatigue because of SAD.
What Are Some Symptoms of Seasonal Depression?
It is not completely clear what causes SAD, but some speculate that seasonal changes affect the release of hormones and the body’s internal clock or circadian rhythm. The disruption in the body’s “normal” biological clock can cause you to be sad. It can also cause clinical depression, changes in mood, and sleep patterns.
If you feel moody or sad, it does not necessarily mean you have seasonal affective disorder. Not all feelings of sadness and depression can be attributed to less sunlight or a change in seasons.
Especially if you have another health condition like cancer, it is important to have a doctor diagnose SAD before you proceed with treatment options.
Signs and symptoms of seasonal affective disorder can include:
- Low energy, lethargy
- Lack of interest in doing things you usually enjoy
- Sleeping more than usual
- Trouble sleeping
- Difficulty getting out of bed
- Changes in appetite
- Feeling depressed most of every day during particular seasons
Unfortunately, people undergoing chemotherapy or radiation might feel many of these things already- they are some of the side effects of cancer treatments.
Exhaustion, loss of appetite are usually the most common symptoms of chemo and radiation. But depression, sadness, and other emotional side effects hit many cancer patients even harder than the physical ones.
But, luckily, there are things that might help you combat some of the symptoms of SAD (and maybe cancer treatments) and improve your overall quality of life during these months.
What Can You Do To Ease Symptoms of Seasonal Depression?
Different sources have different suggestions about how to help manage some symptoms of seasonal affective disorder.
If you are a cancer patient, make sure that the first thing you do is speak to your doctor about any limitations or restrictions on your activities. You don’t want to jeopardize your health or recovery from cancer.
Consider the following things that might help ease your seasonal depression:
Get as much sunlight as you can. When it starts to get cold and the days get short, we tend to get far less sunlight than in the summer months when we are used to spending time outdoors.
What can you do? Bundle up and get outside on a bright winter day or open up those blinds and sit by a sunny window. Getting natural light can greatly improve mood, which is something that indoor light does not do.
Create (and stick to) a schedule for sleeping and eating meals. Sources say that doing so can help improve sleep and maintain a healthy weight which can both decrease depression.
Try aromatherapy. Essential oils can stimulate parts of the brain that induce feelings of happiness, combat anxiety and promote sleep for those with insomnia.
Regular exercise helps combat depression, whatever its root cause. If you can, exercise outside in the sunlight by walking, jogging, or bike riding, even better! If not, even indoor exercise can provide ample benefits.
Light weights, walking around your favorite mall, or swimming in an indoor pool are excellent ways to get your exercise during the cold winter.
Consider yoga, meditation, or other “relaxation” exercises. Yoga, stretching, and meditation are all forms of exercise that can soothe the brain and the body. They have proven benefits, including easing anxiety and depression, promoting physical and emotional healing, and facilitating healthy sleep habits.
Keep a journal. Writing down negative thoughts and feelings can help you “unload” them and make room for positive thinking. For cancer patients, in particular, journaling is a good way to process your diagnosis and treatment and acknowledge some of the complex feelings that come along with cancer.
Stay connected. Covid-19 has made it very difficult for people to be together. Cancer patients must be extra cautious and avoid unnecessary exposure to illness. During the colder months, it is harder to socialize outdoors. The result? Increased isolation can lead to depression and worsen the symptoms of seasonal affective disorder.
Even if you want to withdraw, it is critical to find ways to stay connected to friends and loved ones. Interaction is essential, and if you can’t be with people in person, use FaceTime, Zoom, and other tools to connect.
Some other suggestions include light therapy (using bright lightboxes), taking vitamin d, or speaking to a mental health professional who can help when you are feeling sad.
If you are experiencing major depression or having suicidal thoughts speak to a trained medical professional right away. Don’t wait to see if there is a seasonal pattern to your feelings.
Brighten the Day of Someone With Cancer
If someone you know and love is undergoing cancer treatments, the colder, shorter days might be especially difficult for them. When the seasons change, especially in fall and winter, they might be more sad than usual. Check-in on them to make sure they are doing ok. They need you, especially now.
Do you want to do something special for someone with cancer? Do you want to send something that will brighten their day and bring a smile to their face? Send a cancer gift basket from Rock the Treatment.
If someone you love has cancer, send them a helpful cancer gift basket from Rock The Treatment. Chemotherapy and radiation gift baskets are packed with the essentials needed to ease side effects of treatment, as well as enhance physical and mental well-being. See all of our cancer care packages and find the one that best supports their journey.