Start Now to Reduce Seasonal Affective Disorder
Winter is just around the corner. And with winter comes seasonal affective disorder (SAD). SAD is a type of depression that increases during certain seasons. Most people that have SAD experience increased symptoms during the cold winter months, although some experience increased depression during the summer. Usually, signs of SAD begin in late fall, when our daytime sunlight is at its lowest and then disappears as spring brings warmer days and more sunlight.
According to an article on the University of Washington's website, researchers believe SAD is caused by our body rhythms are out of sync with the sun. Melatonin is a hormone produced by our bodies which helps regulate the sleep/wake cycle. When the times for dusk and dawn change with the season, our bodies may not adjust the production of melatonin properly, causing SAD.
If you are prone to developing SAD during the winter months, now is the time to be proactive and take some steps to help reduce the symptoms over the next few months. Below are some suggestions for helping to minimize the impact of SAD:
- Use a light box, light therapy, a sun lamp or use full spectrum bulbs in your lamps. A few people may experience eyestrain, headaches or dry eyes from light therapy but this is normally mild. If you have existing eye problems, you should consult with your eye doctor before using light therapy.
- Spend time outside as often as possible. Even the winter sun or the light from an overcast day can help by exposing you to sunlight and can help to reduce the symptoms of SAD.
- Add exercise to your daily routine. Exercise has been shown to decrease feelings of fatigue and depression. If you haven't been exercising, now is a good time to start, before the cold weather sets in. If you have health problems, talk to your doctor before beginning any exercise program. Adding even 20 minutes of exercise each day can help you feel better.
- Plan at least one social activity each week. Staying active and keeping in touch with friends can help you feel better. As SAD sets in, you may not have the motivation and energy to make plans and go out. Starting early to connect with friends and make plans to get together can help you fend off some of the effects of SAD.
- Talk to your doctor. If the symptoms of SAD have interfered with your life during past winters, make an appointment to speak with your doctor now, before the cold weather comes. You can discuss with your doctor whether medication, even short term, would be a good alternative. If you currently take antidepressant medications, this is a good time to talk with your doctor about how the medication is working and whether the dosage should be adjusted during the winter months.
- Use a mood chart to help monitor your mood during the upcoming months. If you begin to notice a change in your mood, start making changes in your daily routine, such as the suggestions listed here. Don't wait until you feel the full brunt of depression before seeking help.
Practice healthy habits. Eat right, get plenty of fresh air, get a good night's sleep. All of these factors help keep you mentally healthy.