Seasonal Affective Disorder is a depression that happens every fall and winter when the days become shorter and the days become darker. The lack of sunlight affects about 6 percent of people and 20 percent of people might experience a mild case of SAD. The disorder impacts mostly adults and doesn’t start in people under 20. Theories for the causes could be a sluggish transmission in brain serotonin systems, abnormalities in the genes or a sensitivity of the retina to light, according to Norman E. Rosenthal, M.D., who first described the condition in 1984.
SAD increases the further you live from the equator. This is the reason that so many people in New Hampshire experienced SAD compared to Florida. In Florida “SAD was only 1.5 percent of the population, whereas in New Hampshire, it was almost 10 percent,” Rosenthal explained. Some of the symptoms that accompany SAD are fatigue, weight gain, irritability, withdrawing from social situations and emotional instability. Like with any mood disorder you need to treat SAD because all forms of depression impacts a person life. The good news is that SAD is treatable and here are 6 ways you can recover from it.
Start light therapy.
Seeking out light therapy can be very beneficial during the dark days of winter. You can start by using more lamps to bring more light into your environment. Purchasing a light box is an effective treatment for SAD. They emit light and are adjustable. Rosenthal recommended that fluorescent lights are the best and that a white light is better than a blue light. Get outdoors as much as you can to receive natural light, even if it is only 15 minutes a day.
Talk to your doctor about the symptoms and seek therapy. Some people might benefit from the combination of therapy and light boxes. Cognitive behavioral therapy might be good for you. This is where you focus on proactive behaviors to counteract the negative ones during the winter instead of going into hibernation. Instead of remaining indoors plan activities and hobbies that get you outside and around people. Choose positive thoughts and discard the thoughts of hopelessness. Write statements that counteract the bad ones like “Everyone has good and bad days. I can rise above these feelings of sadness.” Don’t be afraid to brainstorm for solutions with your therapist to find other ways to tackle the issue. Antidepressants also can be effective for people with SAD. Consult with your doctor about taking medications if it is right for you.
There are foods that can beat the blues. As much as we love comfort foods during the winter it will deplete our systems and can actually add to our stress. People who struggle with depression are sensitive to processed foods as the sugar goes immediately into the blood stream. The reason is because it spikes your blood sugar for a sudden boost and then the blood sugar plummets. Some foods to include in our diet to combat depression are walnuts, blueberries, spinach and fish. For beta-carotene try broccoli, cantaloupe, carrots, pumpkin, spinach and sweet potatoes. Boost your immune system with vitamin C by incorporating more tomatoes, oranges, peppers and grapefruit. “Foods like turkey, tuna, and chicken have an amino acid called tryptophan, which may help you make serotonin,” WebMD reported. Being more selective in your eating habits will add to your energy and clear the mind.
A journal is a great way to release your fears and worries. You can use it when you are feeling low and when good things happen. It can change our perspective to give us a better understanding of a situation since it allows us to slow down from life. Writing about the events during the day helps you to come to terms with problems that surface. Another idea is trying to be more thankful. Write down at least one blessing per day. This action reminds you that things are never really that bad. Find time to be thankful for free time to take a walk or by indulging in your favorite ice cream!
Don’t give up.
Depression will suck the life from you if you let it. Don’t disappear during this time and resist the urge to sink into obscurity. It is fine to take a break from life, but only for a limited of time. Know that happiness doesn’t need to be in the future—it can be now. Refocus your thoughts to how far you have come over the years and all your accomplishments. Make the decision to not allow depression to own you. Try doing something new like going to a cooking class, signing up to volunteer or take a trip somewhere warmer. Never give up the fight—your well-being depends on it.
Perhaps you need to laugh more! Laughing increases the serotonin levels in the brain as this will improve your mood. It also releases endorphins, a natural feel-good chemical that can help with physical pain. “Carry laughter with you wherever you go,” writer Hugh Sidney said. He was onto to something. Laughter brings restoration to the body by improving your heart, by lowering blood pressure and by boosting the immune system. Think of a moment that made you laugh and take it wherever you go. Laugh with friends or go see a funny movie. We all need more laughter in our lives.
SAD is something that needs to be addressed and should not be treated lightly. Like with any depression seek out help and don’t be ashamed as you are not alone. Don’t brush off SAD as the occasional blues while you work to hold it together until spring. The illness will not just disappear and could become worse. Manage the disorder now before you physically can’t take anymore or while you still have it under control.