Don’t be SAD: How to Combat Seasonal Affective Disorder

By Peter Howard



Photo credit substanceforyou.com


It is getting to be that time of year when many people, like myself, begin to suffer from Seasonal Affective Disorder. According to the Mayo Clinic’s website, Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD) is a type of depression that is related to changes in seasons — SAD begins and ends at about the same times every year. If you’re like most people with SAD, your symptoms start in the fall and continue into the winter months, sapping your energy and making you feel moody. Less often, SAD causes depression in the spring or early summer. For me, every year around the beginning of October, I become very withdrawn and tend to get upset over the most minuscule situations; it only gets worse as autumn and winter progress.

So how do SAD sufferers like myself deal with this extremely inconvenient and potentially crippling disorder? Everydayhealth.com has nine recommendations for fighting SAD. First, using a light therapy box that mimics the affects of sunlight. The light from the box is significantly brighter than regular light bulbs and also gives off light in different wavelengths. They recommend sitting in front of the light for 30 minutes a day in order to stimulate your body’s circadian rhythms; which are physical, mental, and behavioral changes that follow a roughly 24-hour cycle, primarily responding to light and darkness in organisms. It is also suggested that you use the light box in the morning because it appears to be more affective.

Second, they recommend dawn simulators, which are like alarm clocks that gradually increase light intensity like the sun, rather than using loud noises to wake you up. There are several different simulators on the market, but the best ones use full-spectrum light (which is closest to natural sunlight).

Third, SAD is a real form of depression and is best diagnosed by your doctor or another medical professional with experience in mental health. Talking to a healthcare professional can help identify whether you do suffer from SAD or another form of depression. From there you can work together to find out a proper course of therapy or medication treatment, if required. Therapy is a useful tool for helping individuals cope with everyday life and has been stigmatized negatively in the past but more and more Americans are admitting to battling some form of depression or anxiety nowadays. As a result, the negative connotation of therapy is fading. Do not be ashamed to ask for help.

Next, as I said before, some people may need to be prescribed antidepressants. Many people coping with SAD only take medication in the wintertime when they experience their symptoms, but they must take them every winter. It is very important to be able to identify when you begin to feel the symptoms of SAD and talk to your doctor so that you can begin treatment. Like psychotherapy, antidepressants and other psychiatric medications have been largely stigmatized in society. There is absolutely no shame in needing assistance to make it through rough times. Just because you suffer from SAD does not mean that you are “crazy” or “insane” or “a danger to yourself and others,” it simply means that during certain months out of the year, you are unable to function on all levels. Ask for help if you need it.

Another way to fight SAD is by being active. As with other forms of depression, exercise can be a great way to turn your frown upside down. In case you have not heard, exercising releases endorphins in your brain which help in making you feel happy. Outdoor exercise is the best, but if you are unable to go outside due to weather conditions, using equipment at home or at a gym is still effective. Also, exercise can help curb the weight gain that usually accompanies SAD.

Getting outside as much as possible can also help. Thankfully, we live in New Orleans where it rarely snows and the sun is usually shining even in Winter, but if you travel to snowy places, it is recommended that you try to go outside at (or around) noon when the sun is at its brightest. Going for a walk can also help you clear your head and sort through the emotions that are causing you to feel down. Also, keeping your blinds or curtains open to allow as much natural light in as possible helps.

Keeping a regular schedule is also a way to treat SAD. Maintaining a schedule can help improve sleep, which helps alleviate the symptoms. Many people who suffer from SAD have difficulty sleeping at night, and getting up in the morning poses additional challenges. By keeping a regular schedule you will be exposed to light at a consistent rate and help reduce your feelings of listlessness. Also, eating at regular intervals helps regulate food intake and prevents weight gain that most SAD sufferers experience in the winter months.

Though there is little to no evidence to support it, everydayhealth.com suggests that taking a winter vacation to warmer climates can help you fight SAD. Travel helps give you a break from your day-to-day life and gets you out from under the cold, overcast skies above. As has been stated, natural light is one of the essential combatants of SAD. Taking a vacation cannot help but lift your spirits. Just a few days in a sunny place can help fight your wintertime depression. I should reiterate that there is little-to-no research to support this theory, but it definitely makes sense — and who doesn’t love a good vacation anyway?

Lastly, it is suggested that you brighten up your home. During the winter months, the sky can usually be overcast and grey, letting little sunlight shine. Try equipping your home with lots of lights. This is the least economically effective way to go about it because your electric bill may end up costing more than your entire education! But, just like most of the tips I’ve listed to fight SAD, lots and lots of light is essential. Regular lamps help, but it is suggested that the lights you use in your house be brighter than normal as SAD sufferers tend to need greater amounts of light to actually make a difference in their moods.

The holidays are usually a very stressful time of year for everyone. If you suffer from SAD, you are not alone. There is nothing wrong with being down every now and then. Just remember that the pain of depression is completely temporary and if you implement even just one of these recommendations, it can help change your way of thinking. And always remember to smile.

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