Do the winter months seem to drag on? Do you feel desperate to move to a warmer climate? Do you struggle to overcome sadness in order to live your daily life?
While many people experience negative changes in mood during the fall and winter months, if you’ve noticed an extreme downward turn in mood that lingers despite attempts to find enjoyment and relief, you may be affected by seasonal affective disorder.
Seasonal affective disorder (SAD) is a mental health condition akin to depression. If the winter blues are weighing on you, it’s time to talk to a healthcare provider. Here’s what you’ll want to look for so you know what signs to report and how to deal with seasonal affective disorder.
Understanding seasonal affective disorder
Seasonal affective disorder, sometimes called seasonal depression or abbreviated SAD, is a mood disorder that affects people who live in regions with seasonal weather patterns. Seasonal affective disorder is a type of depression and is triggered by darker, colder seasons (and in rare cases of summer-pattern SAD, warmer and sunnier months.)
If you have seasonal affective disorder, you’re likely to feel symptoms of sadness, low energy levels, weight gain, hopelessness and a decreased interest in activities you would normally enjoy. This type of depression has biological as well as environmental causes and can be treated with a variety of therapies and seasonal affective disorder self-care.
A person who experiences seasonal depression may have risk factors for mental health issues, such as a family history of depression, low levels of certain neurotransmitters in the brain and certain inherited traits.
Causes of seasonal affective disorder
According to Cleveland Clinic, in addition to risk factors for mental health issues, there are a couple of common factors to look towards when understanding seasonal affective disorder.
In addition to biological factors, the environment can play a key role in the onset of seasonal affective disorder. It’s thought that decreased exposure to sunlight, and therefore vitamin D, is a major factor in SAD. Vitamin D increases levels of serotonin in the body, and healthy levels of serotonin contribute to a positive mood.
In addition to exposure to vitamin D, SAD can occur due to shifts in a person’s circadian rhythm. This adjustment impacts mood, appetite, energy and sleep. Significant changes to your interior clock can disrupt hormones and contribute to seasonal depression.
Melatonin is another factor that may be caused by the environment and lead to depression or symptoms of depression. Melatonin occurs naturally in the body and aids with sleep. Excess darkness in an environment may release too much melatonin, making individuals feel sleepy and lethargic.
How to deal with seasonal affective disorder
Seasonal affective disorder is treatable. Treatment for SAD is similar to other forms of depression and typically includes therapy and medication. Severe depression may require time at an inpatient facility in order for a person to feel stable and safe on their own and to mitigate the risk of suicidality.
Seasonal affective disorder, in addition to therapy and medication, can also be addressed with supplemental therapies. If you are unsure whether you have been impacted by SAD, you can also try out these seasonal affective disorder self-care strategies. If after a few weeks, you notice little change, it’s time to consult a doctor.
Here are techniques to address seasonal depression at home:
1. Light therapy
Light therapy uses bright, artificial light that mimics natural sunlight. Using a light box on a daily basis has the same effect as natural sunlight, especially when used in the morning upon waking up each day. Light therapy can reduce the symptoms of SAD by exposure to roughly 10,000 lux of cool-white fluorescent light, which is around 20 times brighter than normal indoor light and helps your body maintain a healthy circadian rhythm.
2. Vitamin D supplements
A deficiency of vitamin D can contribute to the onset of seasonal depression or worsen symptoms. Taking a vitamin D supplement can reverse the effects of a lack of natural sunlight and the effects can be felt within days.
3. Let in natural light
Although the winter gives us less light, it’s still important to take advantage of whatever natural sunlight we can. Keeping the curtains open during the day can help us fight off sleepiness and even encourage us to get outside and soak up the sunlight when we notice it streaming through the windows. Letting natural light into your home, especially in the early morning, can help regulate the things that throw us off when SAD is in the picture.
4. Have a regular routine that includes outdoor time
Maintaining a daily routine that includes sufficient sleep and regular meal times can help keep our bodies aligned with their natural rhythm. Sleeping too much or spending no time outside can contribute to depression. A normal daily routine should include a consistent wake-up and bedtime, exercise and at least 10 minutes of outdoor time, even on the coldest days.
Working out releases endorphins in the body, boosting mood and improving energy levels. Regular exercise is important in cold and dark seasons to combat feelings of depression, isolation and hopelessness.
6. Practice yoga or meditation
Mindfulness exercises and breathing exercises can have a profound effect on depression and anxiety. In fact, recent research has found that meditation can actually change the neural networks in the brain to reduce stress and symptoms of depression. Both yoga and meditation, when practiced regularly, can help reduce symptoms of seasonal affective disorder and improve your overall sense of well-being.
Intervention for seasonal affective disorder
Unsure how to deal with seasonal affective disorder? Silvermist Recovery can help you, offering professional diagnosis, guidance in treatment and support along the way. Call today to learn more.