Do You Have Seasonal Affective Disorder?
Here’s What You Can Do About It
By Stephanie Kocer
The holiday season has come to an end and that means we are settling into the long winter season. With it comes colds, puffy coats, and the isolation of staying indoors with less sunlight. When 5 p.m. feels like midnight it’s easy to start feeling those winter blues and get stuck in a rut.
For some, this time of year brings a lethargic feeling that leaves them feeling unable to make plans with friends and family or concentrate throughout their days. This could be a condition known as seasonal affective disorder or SAD.
Contrary to popular belief, SAD is very real. People who suffer from SAD feel a depressed state and low mood that’s very similar to a clinical depression diagnosis.
Below are some tips and tricks to identifying seasonal affective disorder and ways you can cope with these feelings during the long winter months.
What is SAD?
SAD can start anytime in the fall and run through the spring, (hence the seasonal part). Although uncommon, it is possible to have SAD during the summer months as well. Research points to the body’s lack of daylight hours to the main cause in people who have SAD. There are several different biological factors that are linked to this. For example, during the winter, those with SAD may experience lower levels of serotonin in their nerve cells, a hormone that plays a big role in your mood. Your body could also produce too much of the hormone melatonin, resulting in feeling sleepier than usual. A lack of vitamin D also has links to depression.
Young adults are more prone to develop SAD, while women are diagnosed four times more often than men. A family history of SAD or a personal history of mental health can increase your risk.
SAD is a form of depression, not a separate disorder. Therefore, common symptoms of SAD are just like those of depression. Specifically seasonal symptoms include: constantly feeling tired, overeating and craving carbs, feeling the urge to hibernate, and gaining weight.
What should I do if I suspect I have SAD?
If you’ve noticed your mood takes a harsh dip during the winter, there are several different things you can do to lift your spirits and continue to encourage a regular routine.
Check your vitamin D levels
A doctor can check your vitamin D levels with a blood test. They may recommend you use supplementation to help. This is considered a common practice to combating SAD and is usually used alongside other treatments.
Keep up with an exercise routine! It can be hard to motivate yourself when it’s cold and dark outside to get to the gym, but research has shown that breaking a sweat on a regular basis can help improve your mood. This isn’t an end all be all treatment for SAD, but it has been proven to help.
Talk to a therapist
If you’ve noticed symptoms lasting for longer than two weeks, talking to a therapist is a good idea. A therapist might recommend you regularly meet with them to talk to establish healthy coping mechanisms. They might also prescribe medications, like selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs) to help boost your hormone levels. Talking to your doctor can help you get a proper diagnosis and figure out the right treatment plan.
Light therapy exposes someone to bright, artificial light to help replace the sunshine they’re lacking during the winter. People who have SAD are encouraged to sit by a light box for 20 to 60 minutes first thing in the morning to improve their mood. Light boxes filter out ultraviolet rays and provide light that’s 20 times brighter than the typical indoor lighting. Getting outdoors and taking advantage of natural light is also helpful.
You can also try mind-body techniques that can help the mind and body relax. There’s many different variations of these techniques, including yoga, tai chi, meditation, guided imagery, music, or art therapy.
For more info about SAD, visit www.nimh.nih.gov.