For many, it is the most wonderful time of the year. Snow is falling, people are cheerful, and hot chocolate is a popular choice for staving off the chilly winter air. Many people love winter, especially December. However for those with Seasonal Affective Disorder, this time of year is far from being the most wonderful time of the year.
Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD) is a form of depression that appears during the fall and winter months, and usually resolves itself by spring and summer. January and February are generally the toughest months for individuals with SAD. It is believed that SAD occurs as a result of less daylight, which means less serotonin production, more melatonin production, and less vitamin D.
If you are one of the many Americans affected by SAD, here are 7 tips to deal with seasonal affective disorder:
Buy a Lightbox
To combat the shorter days, sitting in front of a therapy light box for 30 minutes a day can help decrease melatonin production and improve your symptoms. Light boxes mimic natural sunlight, minus the UV radiation, by using different wavelengths and brightness than light bulbs.
Even if you only experience depression seasonally, talking with a licensed psychologist can be beneficial. Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT) is a common psychotherapy approach that focuses on identifying negative thought patterns and transforming them into more positive thought patterns. For more information, see “Different Types of Therapy”.
Selective Serotonin Reuptake Inhibitors (SSRIs) are used to increase and regulate the amount of serotonin produced by the body. Since certain people with SAD have been found to produce less serotonin during the winter months, SSRIs can help ease symptoms by normalizing their serotonin levels.
Take Vitamin D
Vitamin D is obtained by the body through sunlight and diet. Many people with SAD have also been found to have a vitamin D deficiency. When combined with other treatments, taking vitamin D can help to improve SAD symptoms, although research is currently divided on the benefits of vitamin D.
Exercise has a variety of benefits and reducing depressive symptoms is one of them. Additionally, exercise can reduce aches and pains from muscle stiffness, prevent seasonal weight gain, and help you sleep better. You don’t have to exercise strenuously to obtain these benefits, even a walk will help.
Get as Much Sun as Possible
The more sun you get, the better you’ll feel. If possible, walking or eating lunch outside in the afternoon is ideal because the sun is the brightest at this time. If it is far too cold to be outside or if being outside is simply not an option, the next best thing is to open the blinds and sit by a window. The brighter, the better.
If you have been diagnosed with SAD or you believe that it affects you, it is helpful to plan ahead and be proactive about managing symptoms before they progress. This can mean making an appointment with a psychologist or psychiatrist, buying a lightbox, or planning enough activities during winter to keep you busy and distracted.
While winter may pose an additional challenge for those with seasonal affective disorder, using these seven tips can help you improve your mood and decrease symptoms. It is important to note that not every tip will be helpful for you, so some trial and error may be needed. It is also important to know that if your symptoms are severe, it is recommended to skip the other tips and speak with a mental health professional about a treatment plan.
Dr. Miller is trained in Adult, Child and Adolescent Psychiatry. She is also trained in Anesthesia and Pain Management. Because of her broad experience, Dr. Miller is uniquely qualified to treat psychological trauma, depression and anxiety that can occur as a result of injury or disability. For more information, schedule a consultation at NJ Family Psychiatry & Therapy.