Beating the Winter Blues: A Guide to Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD)

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Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD) is a form of depression that can appear gradually, or all at once, during the fall and winter months. While symptoms are usually mild to moderate, they can become severe. Unlike Major Depressive Disorder (MDD), symptoms of SAD tend to go into remission throughout spring and summer, though may be experienced throughout the year by those who have less exposure to sunlight during the day. SAD can affect people of all ages, with most people experiencing onset between 18 and 30. SAD is also genetic, and has been shown as being four times more common in women than in men. Considering that December through February tend to be the most difficult months for those coping with the condition, it is important to be aware of possible symptoms and available treatment options throughout the holiday season.

SAD has many symptoms in common with depression, and can include the following:
• Fatigue
• Lack of interest in normal activities, or those once enjoyed
• Social withdrawal
• Changes in appetite, such as craving foods high in carbohydrates
• Weight gain
• Irritability
• Low energy
• Hypersensitivity to rejection
• Oversleeping
• Feelings of depression, hopelessness, or worthlessness

These symptoms can significantly impair one’s daily functioning at a time of year when most others are preparing for the festivity of the holiday season.

There are plenty of treatment options for managing the symptoms of SAD:

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Increased exposure to sunlight

  • Take a walk during the day. Being outside during the day can help activate your brain and make you feel more energized.
  • Arrange you home or office in a way that allows sunlight into the room as much as possible.
  • Mornings can be especially difficult during the winter months, so be sure and try to let in as much sunlight into your room as possible when you wake up.
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Phototherapy

  • This manner of light therapy involves exposure to a specialized light box for a prescribed period of time, and is often used to alleviate symptoms of SAD that are severe enough to impair one’s normal level of functioning.
  • Light boxes come in many varieties and sizes, talk to your doctor or therapist about what would be best for you.
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Psychotherapy

  • Therapy can often be as successful, if not more so, than medication alone for depression disorders, including SAD.
  • Talk therapy can help clients learn to identify and change negative thoughts and behaviors that may be worsening the symptoms of SAD.
  • Therapy is also a great way to learn healthy coping skills and stress management techniques.
antidepressants

Medication & Supplements

  • Melatonin is a sleep related hormone that has been associated with depression and SAD, and is produced at increased levels when they days become shorter and darker. If you are currently taking a melatonin supplement regularly, it may be a contributing factor to increased SAD symptoms
  • SSRIs (Selective Serotonin Reuptake Inhibitors) that are successful in alleviating symptoms of depression can also be helpful in managing the symptoms of SAD.
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Dietary Adjustments

  • Don’t succumb to those cravings for heavy carbohydrates.
  • The building blocks of neurotransmitters include proteins, and B-Vitamins such as those found in dark leafy green vegetables.
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Exercise

  • The weather may not be motivational, but it is still important to remain active to increase the amount of endorphins in the blood stream.
  • If the idea of exercising seems overwhelming, consider dance, or yoga.
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Socialize

  • Even though you may not be feeling much like seeing others, increased socialization can provide a sense of continuity and normalization, and make you feel more connected and appreciated by others.

If you suspect that you or someone you know or care for may be coping with SAD, talk to your doctor about which treatment option may be best for you. According to the APA “SAD can be misdiagnosed as hypothyroidism, hypoglycemia, infectious mononucleosis, and other viral infections, so proper evaluation is necessary. For some people, SAD may be confused with a more serious condition like severe depression or bipolar disorder.” Once you are your doctor and/or therapist have developed a treatment plan, it is important to stick to that plan. Remember that taking care of yourself is an ongoing process that demands priority.

 

 

References

Klein, S. (2014, December 6). 9 Ways to Cope With Seasonal Affective Disorder. The Huffington Post.
Retrieved December 18, 2014, from http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2014/12/06/seasonal-affective-disorder_n_6255780.html

Seasonal Affective Disorder (2014). American Psychiatric Association.
Retrieved December 18, 2014, from http://www.psychiatry.org/seasonal-affective-disorder

Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD). (2014, September 12). Mayo Clinic.
Retrieved December 18, 2014, from http://www.mayoclinic.org/diseases-conditions/seasonal-affective-disorder/basics/coping-support/con-20021047

Wehrenerg, M. (2014, November 10). Seasonal Affective Disorder: Tips to Overcome theDisorder. Psychology Today.
Retrieved December 18, 2014, from http://www.psychologytoday.com/blog/depression-management-techniques/201411/seasonal-affective-disorder-tips-overcome-the-disorder

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