Seasonal Affective Disorder: More than the Winter Blues
As many as six out of every 100 people in the U.S. experience Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD). It’s more than just the winter blues – it can be very difficult for people who suffer from it and this stretch of winter, January and February, tends to be the most brutal. SAD is a type of depression that lasts for a season, typically the winter months, and goes away during the rest of the year. Symptoms of SAD are the same as those of depression. They can vary in severity and often interfere with personal relationships. Symptoms include fatigue, pervasively sad mood, loss of interest, sleep difficulty, or excessive sleeping, craving, and eating more starches and sweets, weight gain, feelings of hopelessness or despair, and thoughts of suicide.
A popular treatment for SAD is Bright light therapy (BLT). It has been demonstrated to be helpful to individuals with seasonal affective disorder. More recent research is investigating whether and how it is helpful for other problems. There are other ways to manage SAD.
- Take in as much daylight as possible. The lack of sun exposure is part of what causes SAD, so soaking up as much as you can may lessen symptoms. Sit by a window or go for a walk during daylight hours. You could even take up a winter sport to get you outside and keep you moving.
- Eat healthily. Comfort foods don’t have to be loaded with extra calories and lots of sugar and fat. Get creative and look for hearty, low-calorie recipes that are easy to prepare. Instead of eating cake and cookies, try making a dessert from seasonal fruits like apples and pears.
- Spend time with your friends and family. Spending time with friends and family is a great way to lift your spirits and avoid social isolation. Snuggle with your kids or pets, visit with your friends while drinking a hot cup of tea, or play board games with your family. Talk to you loved ones about how the season is affecting you. Take the time to educate them about SAD so they can better understand your situation.
- Stay active. Don’t stay cooped up in your house all winter. Get out and enjoy your community this season. Volunteer, join a local club, go for a walk, or go ice skating with your loved ones to start. Also, if you know you experience SAD year after year, be proactive about planning out a schedule in advance of winter to keep active and engaged with others. Research shows exercise and scheduling pleasant activities can beeffective ways to lessen the impact of SAD.
- Seek professional help. If you continue to struggle with feelings of depression, you may want to seek help from a mental health professional, such as a psychologist or psychotherapist. They can help determine if you have seasonal affective disorder and how best to treat it. Research shows that psychotherapy, such as cognitive behavioral therapy, is an effective treatment for SAD, and may have more long-term benefits than light therapy—daily use of an artificial bright lamp—or antidepressant medication.
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