How seasonal affective disorder can impact your finances.
When the temperature drops, the days are shorter, sunshine is scarce, and the holiday season has come and gone – it’s not uncommon for people to experience the winter blues or seasonal affective disorder, also known as SAD. It’s estimated that 10 million Americans experience SAD.1 But did you know that feeling blue can also affect your financial habits?
What are the symptoms of SAD?
SAD is a term used to describe a type of depression that’s related to a change in seasons. It typically occurs during fall and winter months when we’re exposed to less sunlight, and it usually goes away when the weather starts to turn warmer in the spring. According to the American Psychological Association, symptoms of SAD are similar to symptoms of depression, and can include fatigue, difficulty sleeping, changes in appetite and an overall sad mood.2
Money worries about things like credit card debt or inflation can also add to your blues. A 2022 report by Bankrate and Psych Central found that 42% of Americans say money concerns have a negative impact on their mental health.3 And those feelings could make routine financial tasks, like budgeting, feel overwhelming or lead to increased spending in an effort to feel better.
The good news is that there are steps you can take to feel more secure and in control of your finances while helping you feel a bit better.
Tips to help boost your mental health and keep your finances on track
Try to avoid impulse purchases. While it can be tempting to treat yourself to a new outfit or the latest iPhone, using “retail therapy” to feel better can often wreak havoc on your budget and finances. And that can deepen your depression. Instead, commit to a waiting period before you make a big purchase to help avoid overspending or making a purchase you might later regret.
Take small steps to pay down debt. If you overspent during the holidays or have other debt that’s causing you to feel down, trying to manage it can feel overwhelming. Setting small goals and taking baby steps can make it more manageable and help you feel in control. Writing down a plan to pay down debt that’s realistic and achievable can also help you feel more confident about your financial situation.
Review your monthly income, expenses and budget. Focusing on the areas you can control may help create a sense of calm and ease stress. First, account for necessary expenses. Then see what funds you have left and write down a plan to use that money to save for future goals or pay down debt. To add breathing room to your budget, look for areas to cut costs.
Consider the many benefits of saving money. Whether you want to protect your budget from unexpected expenses or save for a short-term or long-term goal, watching your savings grow can be uplifting and help give you a sense of security.
More tips to boost your mood if you’re feeling SAD
Seek out sunlight or try a light box. Go for a walk outside or even sit near a sunny window. Exposure to natural sunlight can boost Vitamin D levels, which may help ward off the blues. Or consider getting a light box — it mimics outdoor light and may help ease symptoms and increase energy levels when used regularly.1
Practice gratitude, which can help you realize how much you already have to be thankful for. For example, every morning commit to writing down three things you’re grateful for.4
The American Psychological Association offers these additional tips to help manage symptoms of SAD.2
Look for ways to help others, whether it’s volunteering in your community or helping an elderly neighbor.
Seek out activities you enjoy. From joining an indoor sports league to crafting, learning to play a musical instrument, or even snuggling with your pet, spending time doing things you like can lift your spirits.
Reach out to friends and loved ones for emotional support and socialization. Try to limit social media scrolling.
Practice self-care. Take care of your body by eating nutritious meals and getting enough sleep. Get outdoors for fresh air when you can. Regular exercise, yoga and meditation may also help reduce the winter blahs.
Schedule an appointment with your primary physician or a therapist to talk about your symptoms and treatment options. Know that you’re not alone and help is available if you’re experiencing seasonal depression, financial worries, or both. You can also use the American Psychological Association’s psychologist locator to find a psychologist near you. If you or someone you know is struggling or in crisis, help is available. Call or text 988 or 988lifeline.org to reach the 988 Suicide & Crisis Lifeline.
Sunny days are ahead
Managing SAD symptoms and worrying about money can be challenging. Try to focus on the progress you’re making as you take small steps to improve your mental health, feel more financially secure, and take control over your future. And remember to look on the bright side: Warmer temperatures and longer, sunnier days are just around the corner.
- Simple ways to save money
- Preparing for the unexpected: How you can protect yourself and your finances
- “Seasonal Affective Disorder,” Psychology Today, updated Feb. 28, 2022, https://www.psychologytoday.com/us/conditions/seasonal-affective-disorder
- “Seasonal affective disorder: More than the winter blues,” American Psychological Association, updated November 28, 2022, https://www.apa.org/topics/depression/seasonal-affective-disorder
- “42% of U.S. adults say that money negatively impacts their mental health,” Bankrate, published May 2, 2022, https://www.bankrate.com/personal-finance/financial-wellness-survey/
- “How to Stick to a Budget When You Have SAD,” Hermoney.com, published Feb. 27, 2020, https://hermoney.com/connect/confessionals/how-to-stick-to-a-budget-when-you-have-sad/