Seasonal Affective Disorder is a subtype of major depression that reoccurs at specific times of the year, most commonly beginning in the fall and abating in spring. Less sunlight seems to trigger changes in the brain the affect sleep cycles and mood among some people. SAD is more common in climates with less winter sunlight and occurs more frequently among women.
Symptoms of SAD
Loss of energy
Loss of interest in activities you once enjoyed
Appetite changes, especially a craving for foods high in carbohydrates
Difficulty concentrating and processing information
Tips for Coping with Winter Depression:
Seek professional help. If you've experienced a serious change in your mood and energy level for two years or more in a row, seek the help of a psychiatrist or other mental health professional and then stick to the treatment regiment. Antidepressants and specific types of therapy (Acceptance & Commitment Therapy, Interpersonal Therapy, and Cognitive-Behavioral therapies) have been shown to help depression.
Go outside. Get outdoors on sunny days, even during winter. You need to the sunlight to help your mood and sleep cycles to improve.
Plan events to look forward to. After the holidays, there are few parties or events to look forward to. Plan events and activities that you enjoy and include friends and family.
Practice stress management. Learn how to better manage stress. Unmanaged stress can lead to depression, overeating, and other unhealthy thoughts and behaviors that make depression even worse.
Socialize. Stay connected with people you enjoy being around. When people feel depressed, they often lose interest in socializing which only exacerbates the Seasonal Affective Disorder.
Take a trip. If possible, take winter vacations in sunny, warm locations
Exercise regularly. Physical exercise helps relieve stress and anxiety, both of which can increase symptoms. Being fit can make you feel better about yourself, which can lift your mood. Some studies have shown exercise to be as effective as anti-depressant in relieving symptoms.
Let there be light. Make your home sunnier and brighter. Open blinds, add skylights and trim tree branches that block sunlight.
Use a light therapy box. Research shows light therapy boxes to be an effective treatment for SAD. These therapy boxes emit light that mimic outdoor light and causes a biochemical change in the brain that improves mood. In light therapy, you sit a few feet from a specialized light therapy box so that you're exposed to very bright light. It is easy to use and has relatively few side effects. The amount of exposure needed varies from person to person. Before you purchase a light therapy box, consult your doctor or mental health provider to make sure it's right for you. You will most likely need their help to determine the optimal light exposure over time. The boxes range in price from $150 to $500. For more information visit lighttherapyproducts.com.
Alison Miller, Ph.D.
Life Coach & Psychologist