Seasonal Affective Disorder: What Are the Benefits of Hawaii’s Weather for Recovery?

Addiction Recovery Publishing Addiction Recovery February 18, 2024

Seasonal Affective Disorder: What Are the Benefits of Hawaii’s Weather for Recovery?

The iconic musician and social rights activist Bob Marley said, “Some people feel the rain, others just get wet.” Our environment greatly affects how we act and interact on a daily basis. But how we feel physically, emotionally, mentally, and spiritually also affects how we interact with our environment. Ultimately, our relationship with our environment, others, and ourselves is cyclic in nature. This cycle becomes negatively disrupted if we are struggling with seasonal affective disorder (SAD).

Why Is Individualized and Comprehensive Mental Health and Addiction Care So Important?

Just as the weather is rarely one-note, our treatment shouldn’t be either. Not only is variety the spice of life, but regarding recovery, it is essential. If a recovery plan is not comprehensive, then there is a good chance that we won’t fully heal at the cellular level.

This is because it is important in recovery to “leave no stone unturned” when we address our issues of mental health and/or addiction. The best way to turn those “stones” over is to try different methods, means, and modalities of recovery. Some will work, others may not, and then others will work better when they are utilized in tandem.

For example, a recovery plan may start with a plan of cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT), art therapy, nature immersion therapy, and mission therapy. Now, CBT and art therapy may work great for someone. However, nature immersion therapy may not, and it may be discovered that mission therapy helps art therapy progress in special ways. So what happens next? We drop the focus on nature immersion, double down on the others, and add something new to keep the healing process progressing at optimal levels. This is what comprehensive recovery is all about: having the most options for the greatest chances of recovery.

Now, this also exemplifies the importance of individualized recovery. The previously mentioned hypothetical plan is not going to work the same for everybody. Perhaps the nature immersion works great, and the CBT doesn’t work out. Then, changes are made to fit the individual situation. When it comes to the best mental health and addiction care, there can be little doubt that comprehensive and individualized are the adjectives that should be the mortar to one’s recovery foundation. This is what healing at the cellular level is all about. 

What Does It Mean to Heal at the Cellular Level?

In the recovery realm, we often hear the phrase “healing at the cellular level,” but what exactly does that mean? For many recovery centers and treatment facilities, they are just buzzwords. However, for a recovery center that can offer all of the modalities needed to heal down to the root/core of one’s issues, then healing at the cellular level means whole mind-body healing for long-term recovery.

This is what happens here at Exclusive Hawaii Rehab. We have a multitude of modalities that can be utilized to meet anyone’s individual needs. These include modalities that come from all the arenas of mental health and addiction care, including traditional mental health therapies like dialectical behavior therapy (DBT), new therapies like ketamine therapy, experiential therapies like horticulture therapy, and holistic treatment options like mediation and yoga. Also, these therapies (specifically, in combination) can be a perfect recipe for helping someone recover from seasonal affective disorder.

What Exactly Is Seasonal Affective Disorder?

It is important to understand that SAD is much more than being negatively affected by the weather around us. Sure, we can all have down days that we associate with the weather or our environment, but for someone with SAD, these days are significantly “darker,” and they are uncomfortably persistent. So then, what exactly is SAD?

According to the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Administration (SAMHSA), “Seasonal affective disorder, or SAD, is a condition in which some people experience a significant mood change when the seasons change… Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD) is triggered by changes in seasons. This form of depression usually occurs during the fall and winter months when there is less sunlight, and the days get shorter.” Of course, merely a lack of sunlight and shorter days are not the only causes of SAD.

Also, SAD can be broken into two types: winter pattern and summer pattern. According to the National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH), “In most cases, SAD symptoms start in the late fall or early winter and go away during the spring and summer, known as winter-pattern SAD or winter depression. Other people experience depressive symptoms during the spring and summer months, known as summer-pattern SAD or summer depression. Summer-pattern SAD is less common.” However, regardless of which type of SAD one struggles with, the signs and symptoms tend to be the same.

The following are just a few of the warning signs, side effects, and symptoms of SAD:

  • Feeling anxious or depressed for most of the day, for 14 days or longer
  • Being restless, irritable, and/or discontent
  • Feelings of emptiness, hopelessness, and/or worthlessness
  • No longer interested in activities once ardently enjoyed
  • Having trouble remembering things and/or concentrating
  • Feeling like one has low or no energy
  • Unexpected and otherwise unexplained weight gain or weight loss
  • Feeling physically run down
  • Having persistent headaches
  • Trouble with sleep patterns, including sleeping too much or sleeping too little
  • Being violent and/or aggressive
  • Having thoughts of self-harm or suicide
  • attempting self-harm or suicide

Some people dismiss SAD as something that will merely pass. However, as NIMH states, “Winter-pattern SAD should not be confused with “holiday blues”—feelings of sadness or anxiety brought on by stresses at certain times of the year. The depression associated with SAD is related to changes in daylight hours, not the calendar, so stresses associated with the holidays or predictable seasonal changes in work or school schedules, family visits, and so forth are not the same as SAD.” 

As one can see, with the signs and symptoms listed, SAD can be much more serious than something that can be left alone. So, if any, many, or all of the symptoms mentioned are present, it is highly recommended that professional help be sought sooner than later. The good news is that SAD is very much treatable.

How Is Seasonal Affective Disorder Commonly Treated?

There are many ways that SAD can be treated. As previously mentioned, regardless of which modalities are utilized, a treatment plan for SAD must be individualized and comprehensive.

This means that SAD should be treated by utilizing traditional, experiential, holistic means. However, the most foundational therapy that is often used for SAD is psychotherapy.

Treating Seasonal Affective Disorder: What Are the Benefits of Psychotherapy?

Psychotherapy can be highly effective at treating many different types of mental health and addiction issues. It is also the therapy that most people are probably familiar with.

According to NIMH, “Psychotherapy (sometimes called talk therapy) refers to a variety of treatments that aim to help a person identify and change troubling emotions, thoughts, and behaviors. Most psychotherapy takes place when a licensed mental health professional and a patient meet one-on-one or with other patients in a group setting… Psychotherapy can be used as an alternative to or alongside medication and other treatment options.” That last aspect is important because psychotherapy is often used in tandem with other methods and modalities rather than on its own.

Now, there are many types of psychotherapy out there, but the most utilized is known as CBT. One of the reasons for this is that it has the most evidence showing its efficacy. 

According to the Institute for Quality and Efficiency in Health Care (IQWiG), “[CBT] is a combination of two therapeutic approaches, known as cognitive therapy and behavioral therapy. Which methods of treatment are applied depends on the illness or problem to be treated. The basic principle behind the therapy is however always the same: What we think, how we feel, and how we behave are all closely connected – and all of these factors have a decisive influence on our well-being.” One can see how this can be greatly beneficial for people struggling with SAD.

CBT can help someone struggling with SAD process the way that the weather and their environment are making them think about themselves and making them feel. When these cognitions (thoughts) and feelings (emotions) are unearthed, then the behaviors associated with them can be addressed and managed.

Why Is One’s Environment So Important for Recovery?

There is little doubt that the world around us affects how we think and feel. If this weren’t the case, then SAD wouldn’t be so prominent. So, it stands to reason that changing one’s environment can be essential for changing how we think and feel.

However, it is a misnomer to think that merely changing one’s environment is a “silver bullet” solution. Yes, it can be pivotal, but it must be utilized with modalities that explain why a change in environment is so important. Nature immersion therapy checks this box and then some.

Treating Seasonal Affective Disorder: What Is Nature Immersion Therapy?

Many people struggle with SAD due to the fact that they have little to no access to nature. Now, of course, this is not the only reason, but it can certainly be a significant contributing factor. 

Now, according to the International Journal of Environmental Research and Public Health, “Worldwide, countries are gradually losing their ecosystems, as natural landscapes are being replaced by human-built features and infrastructures. According to the World Health Organisation, more than half of the world’s population has lived in an urban environment since 2014, and this is expected to increase to 65% by 2030. Along with the progression of urbanization, there has been an increasing amount of urban land and a decrease in forested habitats.” Nature immersion therapy can help combat the way this loss of connection with nature can make one feel.

Also, nature immersion therapy is much more than merely engaging with nature. Yes, of course, this engagement is a major factor, but it also must be done while discussing the experience with a trained professional. When this is done, the benefits can be many.

The following are just a few of the benefits that can be gained from nature immersion therapy:

  • Physical health improvements like lowering blood pressure and heart rate
  • Help with boredom and overall mood
  • Relieves stress
  • Psychological benefits, such as the way one feels about oneself
  • Helps with negative thoughts and cognitive functioning
  • Improves self-esteem
  • Helps with communication (especially on group excursions)
  • Can help with feelings of anxiety and depression, including those associated with SAD

As one can see, the benefits of nature immersion therapy are varied and vast, and there may be no place better to see these results than on the Hamakua Coast of Hawaii’s Big Island.

What Are the Weather and Nature-Based Benefits of Healing on Hawaii’s Big Island?

There are many reasons why we here at Exclusive Hawaii Rehab chose the Hamakua Coast of Hawaii’s Big Island for our recovery center, but one of the most prominent is the weather and beautiful natural landscape. We believe that our environment can be a big part of our client’s successful recovery.

Mere minutes in any direction from our 30-acre luxury property, one can find a new and exciting natural wonder to experience. There are some of the most magical waterfalls, like the Akaka and Rainbow Falls, and beautiful beaches, like Spencer, Carlsmith, and Richardson Beach. Also, there are botanical gardens, live volcanoes, and some of the most amazing lookouts over the Pacific Ocean that one can dream of (such as Laupahoehoe Point). There is also an opportunity to engage with the ocean in ways distinctly unique to Hawaii’s Big Island.

Treating Seasonal Affective Disorder: What Are the Benefits of Swimming With Sea Life and Surf Therapy?

Just mere minutes from our luxury 30-acre property, our clients can swim with some of the most amazing tropical fish and green sea turtles that can only be found in a few places on Earth. There are also once-in-a-lifetime opportunities to go night swimming the majestic manta ray, which many clients have likened to a spiritual experience.

Now, there is also an opportunity to surf some of the best waves that Hawaii has to offer. Only a 15-minute journey off of our property can be found one of the best surf breaks on Hawaii’s Big Island known as Honoli’i. Honoli’i is where one can participate in surf therapy, catch some of the best waves in the world, and meditate peacefully in between the breaks. There are also many quantifiable benefits to surf therapy.

Surf therapy has been shown to help people in several areas of their lives. According to the International Journal of Environmental Research and Public Health, “Carefully planned water activities tailored to the needs of the individual can contribute to correct psychosocial and cognitive development. The International Surf Therapy Organization summarizes the benefits of adequately indicated surf therapy as follows: improved physical health and mobility; improved mental health, including reduction of specific symptoms, such as posttraumatic stress and depression; improved well-being (strengthening of trust and confidence, encouragement of independence, resilience and protective coping strategies) and improved social skills.” Based on what we now know about the symptoms of SAD, one can see how beneficial surf therapy can ultimately be.

Healing at the Cellular Level With Exclusive Hawaii Rehab

Here at Exclusive Hawaii Rehab, there is a reason we say, “Nature is medicine.” Because nature can mend us from the outside in and heal us at the cellular level. This is especially true for those of us who struggle with SAD.

Bob Marley once sang, “Life is one big road with lots of signs. So when riding through the ruts, don’t complicate your mind… Wake Up and Live!” This is what we do here on the Hamakua Coast of Hawaii’s Big Island; we recover and live our lives to the fullest. That is what healing at the cellular level is all about. 

The weather and one’s environment can be critical for one’s recovery. Now, this is certainly true for those struggling with seasonal affective disorder (SAD), but it is also true for those struggling with other issues of addiction and mental illness. We believe “Nature is medicine,” and being outside in a healthy environment can do wonders for one’s whole-mind-body wellness. If you feel like you or a loved one is struggling with issues of addiction, mental health, or co-occurring disorders, we can help get you and your loved ones on the right road to recovery. For more information on how to treat SAD and heal at the cellular level, please reach out to Exclusive Hawaii Rehab today at (808) 775-0200.