Seasonal Affective Disorder: What It Is and How to Cope


Up Your Activity

Like your diet, your activity level takes a dive during the fall and winter. As the season change brings cooler temperatures, people are less interested in heading to the outdoors, which results in more time inside and sedentary.

This shift hurt in two ways. First, being inside more means there is less opportunity to get the available natural light. Second, being inside reduces the amount of physical activity and exercise you receive.

There is plenty of evidence to show exercise is a natural mood booster. Whether it is from the surge of wanted chemicals induced by exercise or simply heating up the body, activity makes people feel better.

No one is saying that you can exercise yourself through depression with a seasonal pattern, but when combined with other available treatments, you might find improved symptoms that are less intense and less frequent than with no activity.

Whatever physical activity you choose, please stay patient with yourself and those around you. Exercise is always a helpful tool, but it takes time to get the results you seek.

Talk it Out

Light, a healthy diet, and exercise are all natural, drug-free treatments for SAD – so is talk therapy. Meeting with a therapist is a low-risk way to address your symptoms and change your experience.

Therapists often assess your thoughts, feelings, and behaviors to better understand your stressors and supports. From there, your therapist can offer simple modifications to the way you think or the behaviors you do to create lasting changes in your life.

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Perhaps the best thing about therapy is its availability. Nearly every community has mental health centers available to the residents, and in the 21st century, talk therapy is available through numerous online sources.

Therapy can improve the negative impact of depression on your life, and it can improve many other aspects of your overall well-being. If you have a problem, therapy could be the answer.

Consider Medication

If the other forms therapy aren’t working well for you, it may be worth talking to your doctor about adding an antidepressant medication to your treatment plan. Prescription drugs like Paxil and Prozac have been shown to improve depression symptoms, and may be what you need to get your perspective and energy back on track.

However, it’s important to be cautious when it comes to medication for depression. Although these drugs aim to balance important brain chemicals, they might not be the ideal solution for seasonal depression since it stems from different causes than clinical depression.

Hopefully, you can find success from medications, and if you do, you and your prescriber can arrange a plan where you stop your medications in the spring and restart in the late summer before your depression has a chance to build.

Try Ion Therapy

A very new (but promising) SAD therapy uses negatively-charged ions to relieve the symptoms. It’s still a mysterious approach — in fact, the positive results were an accidental discovery — but experts have high hopes that flooding the body with painless negative ions could bring a lot of relief to a lot of sufferers.

Whichever SAD therapy you use, don’t discount the importance of a strong support system. Emotional states are strongly tied to physical states, so keeping your activity level high, socializing on a regular basis, and staying in physical contact with family and friends can help your mood and perspective more than you might imagine.

When to See a Doctor for Seasonal Affective Disorder

If you’ve tried to get more light into your life, and adjusted your daily habits and medication to no avail, you may be dealing with something more serious than winter depression. Since there appears to be a genetic component to SAD, doctors suspect sufferers may also be genetically predisposed to chronic clinical depression, which could interfere with your life year-round.

Not everyone with the SAD symptom set will experience chronic depression, but it is worth paying attention to changes that could signal a worsening problem. If your weight changes by more than 5 percent, you lose interest in your favorite activities, or you begin to have suicidal thoughts, don’t sit back and wait for the spring to make things better. See your doctor right away to investigate your seasonal depression more deeply.

Resources

WebMD (Winter Darkness, Season Depression)

Healthy Place (Sadness vs. Depression: What’s the Difference?)

Mayo Clinic (Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD))

SAD.org.uk (Buying a SAD Light)

All about Depression (Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD))

AAFP (Seasonal Affective Disorder)

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