It’s a little depressing to drive both to and from work in the dark, isn’t it? Many factors go into the heightened stress and depression that many people experience during the winter months. This is especially true when the holidays roll around. These negative feelings are often compounded as a result of the cold, darkness, financial strains, and busyness of the season. In fact, seasonal affective disorder (also called SAD or seasonal depression) is estimated to affect as many as 10 million Americans and its repercussions can be devasting. While the holidays are supposed to be a cheerful time, season affective disorder can cause problems like unhealthy eating, drinking, and sleeping habits. It can also take a toll on your performance at work and your relationships with your friends and family. So, how does one deal with seasonal affective disorder? Continue reading for more information!
Symptoms of Seasonal Affective Disorder
Identification is an important step in the treatment of any disorder. You have to confirm the “what” before you can tackle the “how.” So, before we talk about how to deal with seasonal affective disorder, let’s cover some of the symptoms that sufferers experience. The signs and symptoms of SAD include:
- Weight gain or loss
- Losing interests in your hobbies
- Crying spells
- Decreased energy
- Difficulty paying attention
- Suicidal thoughts
What Causes Seasonal Affective Disorder?
Researchers believe that the lack of bright light in the winter months is a cause of seasonal depression. They believe the bright light is responsible for releasing the “happy” chemicals in our brains (i.e. Serotonin). A lack of vitamin D is also a trigger of this disorder. You can get vitamin D naturally from the sun. Other potential causes include disruptions in the body’s circadian rhythm that occur when it starts getting darker earlier in the day. During this time, a person’s melatonin levels may also be affected, which can mess with one’s sleep patterns and mood.
Whether it’s caused by the circadian rhythm, serotonin, or melatonin, seasonal affective disorder is hard to deal with. Let’s cover a few of the ways that people can cope with this disorder.
How Can You Treat Seasonal Affective Disorder?
Light treatments and prescription medications are often used to combat seasonal affective disorder. Some people use bright fluorescent lights as a form of phototherapy during the winter months. Phototherapy requires the use of commercial light boxes, which are used for about 30 minutes a day and mostly in the morning and at night. Even though the light is artificial in this case, it still has the same effects as natural sunlight. And, the quality of light is not as important as quantity. In other words, the more bright light you surround yourself with, the better!
Antidepressants in the serotonin selective reuptake inhibitor (SSRI) family also help to treat SAD. Some of these medications include:
Other Methods to Handle Seasonal Depression
In addition to medication and phototherapy, other lifestyle factors can improve seasonal depression symptoms. These can be especially helpful if a person does not wish to use either of these forms of therapy. Here are a few suggestions for how to mitigate the effects of seasonal affective disorder:
- Keep in contact with friends and family
- Stay out of family conflicts
- Find cheap activities to keep yourself busy
- Practice stress relief exercises
- Avoid overbooking yourself
- Set realistic goals
- Plan ahead
- Seek help
- Avoid binging on food and alcohol
- Schedule your sleep
How do you advise your patients to deal with season affective disorder? Have you dealt with this problem yourself? Share your insight with us in the comments below! We would love to hear from you.