If shorter days and shifts in weather zap your energy and make you feel blue, you’ve got classic symptoms of seasonal affective disorder (SAD) — a form of depression triggered by changes in daylight and weather that occur primarily in winter. Why do some people get SAD? Experts aren’t certain, but some think that those seasonal changes disrupt the body’s circadian rhythm, the 24-hour clock that regulates how we function during sleeping and waking hours, which cause us to feel energized and alert sometimes and drowsy at other times. Another theory is that the changing seasons disrupt hormones, such as serotonin and melatonin, which regulate sleep, mood, and feelings of well-being. Whatever the causes of one’s SAD may be, the signs and symptoms typically can include:
Feelings of depression that happen most of the day, every day, in a seasonal pattern
Having tiredness or low energy
Loss of interest in activities you used to enjoy
Changes in appetite or weight gain
Sleeping too much
How common is SAD?
About 4 to 6 percent of people in the United States have SAD, according to the American Academy of Family Physicians. And as many as 20 percent may have a mild form of it — often called the “winter blues” — that starts when days get shorter and colder, the organization adds. Women and young people are more likely to experience SAD, as are those who live farther away from the equator. People with a family history or diagnosis of depression or bipolar disorder may be particularly susceptible. "It is important to treat SAD, because all forms of depression limit people's ability to live their lives to the fullest, to enjoy their families, and to function well at work," says Deborah Pierce, MD, MPH, clinical associate professor of family medicine at the University of Rochester School of Medicine and Dentistry in Rochester, New York. To help manage SAD, here are a few options you might want to consider.
Talk With Your Doctor Because SAD is a form of depression, it needs to be diagnosed by a mental health professional. "There are a number of screening questions that can help determine if someone is depressed," Dr. Pierce says. "Your doctor will be able to sort out whether you have SAD as opposed to some other form of depression." If you have SAD, seeing a professional can help you work through it. About 12 years ago, Arlene Malinowski, PhD, 58, recognized she had SAD when she read about the symptoms in a magazine article. “I would notice a drop in how I felt and perceived the world in the winter,” the Chicago resident recalls. The psychiatrist she had been seeing for depression confirmed it.
Prepare Your Mind As you prepare our homes for the fall-to-winter transition, you may want to consider preparing your mind, too. Regularly allotting time for mood-boosting activities can help people feel physically and psychologically healthier, says psychologist Kim Burgess, PhD, founder of the Pediatric Psychology Center in Rockville, Maryland, and an adjunct associate professor of psychiatry and behavioral sciences at The George Washington University School of Medicine and Health Sciences in Washington, D.C. “It’s better to set yourself up for the winter season by starting in the fall season — doing enjoyable activities, initiating friend group chats and outings, choosing fun hobbies, and engaging in clubs or community service,” says Dr. Burgess. Regularly taking part in these activities ahead of time is much easier than trying to start from scratch once the winter blues have already set in, she adds.
Try Light From a Box Bright light therapy — exposure to artificial light to help keep one’s circadian rhythm on track — is widely considered a first-line treatment option for SAD, according to a review published in 2017 in the Einstein Journal of Biology and Medicine. One way to try bright light therapy is by using a light therapy box. Also known as phototherapy boxes, these devices give off light that mimics sunshine and can help in the management of SAD, according to the Mayo Clinic. The light from the therapy boxes is significantly brighter than that of regular light bulbs, and is provided in different wavelengths. Typically, you’ll sit in front of the light box for about 20 to 30 minutes a day. This will result in a chemical change in your brain that boosts your mood and alleviates symptoms of SAD, the Mayo Clinic reports. Experts usually recommend using the light box within the first hour after you wake up in the morning, the Mayo Clinic adds. Although often safe and effective, light therapy boxes are not regulated by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA). Be sure to talk with your doctor about whether a light therapy box is right for you.
Prioritize Social Activities Dr. Malinowski tries to get the jump on treating SAD by filling her winter months with enjoyable activities. “Proactive is the way to go,” says Malinowski, who participates in a writing group and book club. Why are social activities important if you have SAD? Studies have found a causal relationship between social isolation and depression, says Burgess. And lately, isolation has been in no short supply as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic. One recent review article addressed the mental health impact of quarantining during the ongoing pandemic. The review, published in March 2020 in The Lancet, indicated that these periods of isolation can have a long-term psychological impact on people, including symptoms of depression and post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). Finding creative ways to stay connected with others during times of increased isolation is important, says Burgess. She suggests hanging out with relatives and friends at a local park, playing outdoor sports or yard games, or going on walks when the weather allows. If wintertime darkness, weather, and COVID-19 have you staying indoors more than desired, there are ways other than in-person interactions to socialize. “When the winter weather makes it super cold to be outside or unsafe to drive, we can FaceTime with friends and extended family members or set up Zoom calls with them,” Burgess says.
Stick to a Schedule People who live with SAD often have trouble sleeping at night and getting up in the morning. Maintaining a regular schedule improves sleep, which can help alleviate symptoms of seasonal depression. "Keeping a regular schedule will also expose you to light at consistent and predictable times," Pierce says. And eating at regular intervals can help you avoid overeating. Many people who live with SAD find they gain weight in the winter, according to the Mayo Clinic.
Get Moving As it does with other forms of depression, exercise can help alleviate SAD. Exercise can also help offset the weight gain that is common with SAD, Kalayjian says. Malinowski says she's more vigilant about sticking with her exercise and yoga routine in the dead of winter. Outdoor exercise is most helpful for relieving SAD symptoms. But if you can't exercise outside because it's cold or snowy, try using a treadmill, stationary bike, or elliptical machine set close to a window at home or at the gym. Not comfortable going back to the gym yet because of COVID-19? You can still break a sweat at home by following instructional workout videos online from organizations like the American Council on Exercise and the National Strength and Conditioning Association.
Let the Sunshine In If you have seasonal depression or wintertime SAD, you'll want to get outside as much as you can during the day to take advantage of what sunlight there is. On cold days, bundle up and take a stroll around the block at noon or soon after — that's when the sun is brightest. Also, when you're indoors, keep your blinds open to let in as much natural light as you can. And if you’re working remotely, choose a workspace near a source of natural light if possible. Indoor lighting is much dimmer than natural light, and this can negatively affect SAD symptoms, reports Yale Medicine.
Keep a Journal Writing down your thoughts can have a positive effect on your mood. "It can help you get some of your negative feelings out of your system,” Kalayjian explains. How can journaling help you cope with depression? According to the University of Rochester Medical Center in New York, it works by helping you prioritize life’s problems and identify your depression triggers, as well as what helps lift your mood. Include your thoughts, feelings, and concerns when you journal. A good time to do so is at night so that you can reflect on all that happened in the last 24 hours.
Original Article : https://www.everydayhealth.com/depression/treatment/ways-to-ease-seasonal-depression/