If seasonal affective disorder has you down, try these tips to boost your mood
Cold weather, short days and grey skies leave many people with a case of the “winter blues”. However, for some it’s more than simply feeling down. Some individuals suffer from a more serious condition called seasonal affective disorder (SAD).
SAD is a type of depression that begins in the fall or early winter months, peaks around January or February and improves in the spring. It is thought that the cause of SAD is decreased sunlight during the winter months. This decrease in sunlight may negatively affect a person’s biological clock, which can lead to feeling slowed down, and serotonin levels which can lead to a person feeling depressed.
What is it like to have seasonal affective disorder?
People with SAD may experience a combination of symptoms including:
- A depressed mood
- Difficulty concentrating
- Sleep issues (often too much sleep)
- Loss of interest in activities
- Feelings of hopelessness or worthlessness
- Changes in appetite (typically an increased craving for carbohydrates)
- Thoughts of self-harm
These symptoms are significant and can affect an individual’s family, social and work life. For this reason, it is important to not brush off symptoms of SAD as “winter blues”. If you think you are suffering from SAD, get a formal assessment from a trained professional (e.g., your medical provider or a psychologist). A professional can also help determine if you may need further testing to rule out any medical condition that may mimic the symptoms of depression (such as hypothyroidism).
How to treat seasonal affective disorder
Several medical treatments have been shown to help alleviate the symptoms of SAD, including:
Light Therapy Research indicates that light therapy can help improve seasonal affective disorder’s symptoms. People who use light therapy typically sit about two feet away from a lightbox right after they wake up. In most cases, 30 minutes is the right amount of time. Always talk to your doctor before beginning light therapy. Light boxes aren’t regulated by the FDA, so your physician may be able to assist you in purchasing the correct one.
Medication Because seasonal affective disorder is a form of depression, antidepressant medications can help regulate its chemical imbalance. Many people no longer need to take their medication when spring comes. Always make sure to talk to your doctor before stopping or starting any medications.
Psychotherapy Studies have also shown that Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT) is an effective intervention for SAD. CBT interventions decrease reoccurrence rates by helping rid negative thoughts and behavioral patterns.
In addition to these medical treatments, lifestyle changes can help manage symptoms of SAD. Examples of lifestyle changes include:
A Daily Walk Even if it’s not 70 degrees and sunny, it’s still a good idea to make the most of the light that is avaiable. People with SAD can benefit from going outside for 20 to 30 each morning. While walking is a great idea, even sitting down on a bench can have benefits.
Consistent Sleep Many people with SAD report that they oversleep. On the flip side, some also struggle with insomnia.Take a look at this article to find tips on how to improve your sleep quality.
Stay Busy Many people pack their summer with events. This can help guard against depression, because your mind and your body are active. Winter tends to challenge people, because there are fewer activities going on. Starting a new hobby that you look forward to each week, can help you stay busy and ward off the winter blues.
Maintain A Balanced Diet Individuals with SAD often crave carbohydrates. Unfortunately, carbs can increase fatigue. Saying no to those cravings and maintaining a well-balanced diet can help your energy levels. Take advantage of winter’s seasonal bounty, including leafy greens and squash into your diet.
Whether it’s SAD or the winter blues, investing time into your health is important. Try one of these steps today, and you just might be on the path to feeling a little brighter,
Thanks to clinical psychologist Anne Brassell for contributing this article.