a sad cowgirl is deflated on a chair, as a cactus plant next to her is also flopped over on the ground

Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD) and COPD

According to the Mayo Clinic, Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD) is a type of depression that’s related to changes in seasons - SAD begins and ends at about the same time every year.1 If you’re like most people with SAD, your symptoms start in the fall and continue into the winter months, sapping your energy and making you feel moody.

Symptoms and causes

Signs and symptoms of winter-onset SAD may include:

What causes Seasonal Affective Disorder is still unknown. It is believed the reduced level of sunlight disrupting the body’s internal clock can lead to this depression. It is found to be more common in those that live further away from the equator, both north and south. This is due to decreased sunlight in the winter months.

Light therapy

Since many COPD patients suffer from similar symptoms of depression, it is difficult to diagnose. I have suffered mildly from SAD for many years, but found it was becoming worse as I got older. Living in New England, the winter season can be long, with many gray and cloudy days strung together. There are many days I crave sunshine as much as I do my cup of caffeine in the morning.

Light therapy is one of the first treatments suggested. There are therapy lightboxes for this purpose. Your doctor can work with you on the proper use of one of these boxes. Instead, I went a different route last year. I purchased a few full spectrum daylight bulbs. They imitate natural light and are very helpful on those dismal days of winter.

Through the years I have come across suggestions that have worked well for me. Many have become part of managing my COPD on a daily basis, and others I start specifically for the winter season. Exercise helps to elevate the mood and provide energy, particularly if you are feeling sluggish. Since I exercise daily because of COPD, I added one of the daylight bulbs to the area which added some bright colors.

Colors and hobbies

When autumn begins, I start changing many accessories to bright colors. They are cheerful and happy on a gray day. I add brightly colored throw pillows, throw blankets, kitchen placemats, and some of my curtains. Anything I can change to summer colors, I do. I am also a lover of sunflowers and add a few vases of artificial stems of these bright yellow flowers throughout my home.

Indoor gardening is a hobby that helps with those winter blues. There are indoor garden units that include the pot and light for tomatoes, lettuce, and fresh herbs. Plant lights are another alternative. Harvesting fresh vegetables from your own window sill is a great pick me up on a cold, blustery day!

Sticking to a schedule is very important. When the sun isn’t shining, getting out of bed can be a chore. Putting a lamp with a special daylight bulb on a timer in the bedroom is helpful to start the day. I am a bird watcher. I love all my backyard animals and watch them from my porch. When the weather starts getting cooler, I put up a couple of window bird feeders. There is something comforting about having my afternoon tea with the birds right outside my window.

Communicate with your doctor

Many of us with COPD are homebound more in the cold weather. If you find yourself suffering more with depression or fatigue, it may make symptoms more severe. Talk to your doctor. It is easy to automatically assume our COPD is getting worse when it might be Seasonal Affective Disorder. Keeping a journal to track moods and symptoms can be a big help in knowing the difference.

Do you suffer from Seasonal Affective Disorder? If so, how does it affect your COPD and what tips can you share with the community?

Editor's Note: We are heartbroken to share that Carol passed away in February of 2022. Carol's storytelling and advocacy will be deeply missed, but her legacy lives on through her articles and in all the people she inspired.

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