Some people experience a seasonal depression each year, bringing them down over the darker winter months. Good news – in a lot of cases, it is preventable!
A tinge of fall is in the air, and the leaves are starting to change colors for many areas of the country. While some people are looking forward to hoodies, hot chocolate, and pumpkin spice everything, others may be filled with a sense of dread. Shorter winter days, more darkness, and more time indoors induce depression for some people, called Seasonal Affective Disorder, or SAD. If this is you, please realize that there are interventions you can do to ward off SAD and to keep your mental health more balanced during the winter season.
The following are some symptoms of SAD:
- Increased fatigue, daytime drowsiness, sleeping more
- Social withdrawal and low energy
- Increased appetite and weight gain, especially linked to sweets and carbs
- Feelings of hopelessness and guilt
- Increased anxiety and irritability
- Loss of interest in activities previously found enjoyable
According to Johns Hopkins, it is believed that the shorter days and less daylight may trigger a chemical change in the brain, that some people are particularly sensitive to. It is also a condition that typically begins in adulthood, after about age 20.
One of the most important tips for treating SAD is to NOT go at it alone. It is important to share your symptoms and feelings with your physician and then with your close loved ones. Your physician can help you find the correct treatments that work for you, and you will greatly benefit from a support system.
Experts at the Mayo Clinic recommend the following four strategies, or a combination to prevent the onset of seasonal affective disorder:
Light therapy. This is also called phototherapy and involves spending time in front of a special light box each day after waking. This therapy mimics the effects of outdoor light and can help balance brain chemicals.
Medications. This must be prescribed by your physician or a psychiatrist, obviously. Some antidepressant medications have been found to be particularly effective at treating SAD. Your doctor may recommend starting treatment before your symptoms typically appear each year, and then tapering off in the spring when symptoms normally go away.
Psychotherapy. This is “talk therapy” or cognitive behavioral therapy. A therapist helps you manage the disease with healthy coping strategies, positive self-talk and learning to manage symptoms.
Mind-Body Techniques. These include activities that release natural feel-good hormones and chemicals that combat negative thoughts. Spending time using relaxation techniques like meditation, journaling, yoga, or tai chi are common strategies or using guided imagery, music, or art therapy. If any of this sounds helpful or interesting, it is worth trying them and getting in a routine before the season’s change and SAD begins.
If you are a SAD sufferer every year, make this the winter you break free from oppressive symptoms. As the air is becoming crisp and the days are shorter, use the time to work with your doctor and put in place a personalized plan for preventing SAD. Everyone deserves mental health and peace of mind, no matter what the season!