How to Combat Seasonal Affective Disorder

Eileen Bailey Health Guide
  • When the weather gets colder and the days get shorter, your mood can change. Seasonal affective disorder (SAD) is "episodes of depression that occur at a certain time of the year, usually in the winter." [1] Women are affected by SAD more often than men and those living in areas that have longer winter nights are more at risk. Genes and hormones may also play a role. Expert Terry Matlen explained that individuals with ADHD may also be at a higher risk of developing symptoms of SAD.

     

    Symptoms of Seasonal Affective Disorder

     

    For many with SAD, symptoms begin in the autumn, as days start to get longer and continue throughout the winter. According to the National Institutes of Health, symptoms include:

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    • Weight gain and increased appetite
    • Sleepiness and sleeping longer hours
    • Lack of focus or ability to concentrate, especially in the afternoon
    • Decreased energy
    • Withdrawing from social activities
    • General feeling of unhappiness
    • Irritability

    As spring approaches, days become longer and you are exposed to longer periods of natural light, symptoms tend to disappear.

     

    Treatment

     

    Treatment for SAD is similar to that for other types of depression, including anti-depressant medication and therapy.

     

    Additionally, light-therapy, using a special lamp that mimics sunlight, helps many people. If you are considering light therapy, you should speak with your doctor and learn how to use the light box. Some people may experience headaches or eye strain using this type of therapy and those with bipolar may find it can trigger manic episodes. If you are on any medications, you should let your doctor know before starting light therapy as certain medications can cause light sensitivity and you may not be able to use this type of treatment while on these drugs.

     

    Lifestyle Changes to Help Combat Seasonal Affective Disorder

     

    While the previous medical treatments can be used to help lessen symptoms of SAD, there are also some lifestyle changes you can make to help decrease your feelings of depression and lethargy.

     

    Exercise - Including exercise in your daily routine has been shown to help reduce depression, anxiety and symptoms of ADHD. It helps with SAD as well. Exercising outdoors is even more beneficial.

     

    Spending time outdoors - Even in the cold weather, try to spend some time outdoors, in natural sunlight.

     

    Pay attention to your eating habits - One of the symptoms of SAD is increased appetite and weight gain, as opposed to other forms of depression which can cause decreased appetite. With SAD you may find yourself snacking more often on junk foods. Instead, keep healthy snacks in your house, such as fresh vegetables, berries, nuts and foods made with whole grains. Eating the proper foods and keeping your weight steady may help you feel better.

     

    Avoid alcohol - There is a strong link between alcohol and depression. During the winter months when you are feeling down, avoid drinking alcohol. Even one drink can leave you feeling down.

     

    Choose to be near a window - To increase your exposure to natural light, keep curtains and blinds open and sit near windows when on public transportation, at home, when exercising and, if possible, at work. Trim back any branches from trees or bushes that may be blocking the natural sunlight.

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    Participate in social activities - Although you may have less motivation to go out and "join in the fun" it is important to actively participate in social functions. Try to plan going out at least once a week.

     

    Follow a normal sleep schedule - As with many types of depression, you may feel sleepy, fatigued and be tempted to increase your sleep, taking naps during the day. However, keeping a regular sleep schedule, going to bed at the same time, getting up at the same time, can help. Avoid taking naps during the day as this can cause disruptions in your night-time sleep.

     

    References:

     

    [1] "Seasonal Affective Disorder," Updated 2011, March 6, Updated by Linda J. Vorvick, M.D., A.D.A.M. Health Encyclopedia, National Institutes of Health Website

     

    "Seasonal Affective Disorder," 2009, September 24, CNN.com

     

Published On: November 28, 2011