Seasonal Affective Disorder and Your Spiritual Well-Being

Woman on Overcast Winter Day
Many people with seasonal affective disorder benefit from periods of exposure to light. Woods Wheatcroft / Getty Images

Many people suffer from seasonal affective disorder, and find that it can have a negative impact on many aspects of their lives. In particular, it can be disruptive to your spiritual life. Where you previously may have found your beliefs to be rewarding and satisfying, once seasonal affective disorder (also known as SAD) kicks in, you might find yourself just feeling apathetic towards any kind of spiritual celebration at all.

Unlike the phenomenon known as the dark night of the soul, which can happen any time, SAD typically takes place in the winter time, and isn’t so much a feeling of spiritual loss and emptiness as it is a feeling of general apathy and indifference. It's also important to keep in mind that just because you think the winter is a bummer and you don't want to do anything does not necessarily mean you are suffering from seasonal affective disorder. It's a clinical mental health diagnosis, and not just a case of feeling down because the weather is bad.

Kaatana is a Pagan in northern Wisconsin, and she says, “I love my Pagan beliefs, and I find great joy in working with my gods. But so help me, by the time late winter rolls around, it just seems like too much work to get off the couch and do anything except eat. It’s not that I don’t care anymore, I do care, but I just don’t care as much. I want to feel rejuvenated, but it’s hard. It gets dark early, it’s cold, and I’m kind of ambivalent about the spiritual things I used to get excited about. Then springs rolls around, and I feel better.”

Symptoms of SAD

Let’s take a brief look at some of the facts about seasonal affective disorder. 

  • Seasonal depression
  • Daytime fatigue
  • Changes in sleeping patterns
  • Withdrawal from social situations and normal daily activity
  • Changes in eating habits, including food cravings and weight gain

Sound familiar? The long periods of darkness, cold weather, and being cooped up indoors has this effect on lots of people. However, the good news is that it’s temporary – but what can you do to get past it?

Give Yourself a Boost

Here are few suggestions that may help you give your spiritual life a bit of a lift during the darker months – it can be hard to get started, but once you do, you may be surprised at how much better you feel.

  • Get Outside: Sure, it’s cold in the dead of winter, but even as little as thirty minutes outdoors can be beneficial, especially when the sun is shining. Bundle up and go for a walk, shovel the driveway, or find some other way to spend time outside. Walking and other aerobic exercise is especially good for you.
  • Light Therapy: If it’s too gray and gloomy where you live for any outdoor time to be helpful, try a blue spectrum light. These are reasonably affordable, and help bring natural light inside for you.
  • Meditate: It’s hard to make yourself meditate when all you really want to do is binge-watch Netflix, but meditation is good for the body and soul. Try to carve out half an hour each day just to get in touch with your inner self, and learn to relax. You might even want to try a Reiki session to help give your chakras an extra boost.
  • Modify Your Diet: In the wintertime, many of us turn to comfort food. Unfortunately, it’s not always good for us, at least not in large quantities. Experts recommend eliminating many of the refined sugars and flours, as well as caffeine, and trying to add foods that are high in serotonin.
  • Herbal Remedies: There are a number of herbal remedies available that can help boost your mood during the dark, cold times of the year. St. Johns Wort is just one of these. Check with your healthcare professional to see which herbal remedy might be a good fit for you to use.
  • Establish a Routine: A daily routine is a good thing to establish all year round, but especially in the winter when we get the seasonal blahs. Make time every day to do something related to your spiritual practice, whether it’s reading and studying, ritual, prayer, or getting out of the house to interact with like-minded people.
  • Set Up an Indoor Altar: Many people in the Pagan community set up altars before the eight sabbats, and then put them away, forgotten, for the next six weeks. Instead, try to put up a permanent altar in a place where you’ll see it, honoring either the season or to the gods of your tradition. This will serve as a regular reminder of the things you believe in and the goals you hope to achieve.

Tadgh is a Druid priest in New York state, and says, “I used to get so depressed every year. As soon as the cold weather hit, I’d be stuck inside. I have a disability that prevents me from too much physical activity so I got stuck in an annual rut, laying around eating and feeling sorry for myself. After a few years of this, I realized that instead of avoiding my spirituality in the wintertime, it was what I needed to help me get through it. I really have learned to value my beliefs and my gods far more during the tough times, instead of just taking things for granted.”

Don't Discount Your Mental and Physical Health

Do keep in mind that if your symptoms don't seem to be alleviated, you could be suffering from something more complex. In that case, be sure to see a healthcare provider for a full, more comprehensive evaluation.