Seasonal Affective Disorder: Beat the Winter Blues

If you find yourself increasingly tired or sad right around wintertime, you’re not alone. If you have periods of prolonged sadness during either the winter or summer months, you likely have something known as “Seasonal Affective Disorder,” or SAD. But what exactly is SAD, and how can you treat it? Keep reading for these answers and more!

What is SAD?

SAD, or Seasonal Affective Disorder, is periods of depression linked to changes in the seasons. You start to feel down or depressed before the season begins and tend to feel better as it draws to a close. If your symptoms start in late fall and continue into the winter months, your pattern mimics that of most other people. In some cases, though, your symptoms can begin in the spring and continue into summer.

What Are Some Symptoms?

Symptoms of SAD are similar to signs of any other bout of depression. Examples of symptoms include changes in sleeping and eating patterns, loss of interest in activities, difficulty concentrating, and thoughts of worthlessness or suicide. If you experience feelings of suicide, reach out and get help from a trusted friend or mental health professional.

What Causes These Symptoms?

While the scientific jury is still out on what exactly causes SAD, scientists have narrowed the causes down to three general purposes: disruptions in your body’s circadian rhythm, disruptions in melatonin levels, and a deficiency in serotonin. If you tend to get less sunlight in the winter, your body’s circadian rhythm, or natural cycle that drives sleepiness, can become off, because your body relies on sunlight to tell it when to sleep. Other causes, like disruptions in serotonin and melatonin, are also related to the sleep cycle.

How Can I Treat My SAD?

There are a handful of treatments available to those living with SAD. One common form of treatment comes in the form of phototherapy or sitting in front of a light box, or bright light that acts like the sun. The light box mimics the sunlight and helps keep your body’s circadian rhythm on track. Many doctors recommend using the lightbox within the first hour of waking up, but your treatment might be different. Talk to your doctor before purchasing a light box to help find the best treatment plan for you.

Another treatment for SAD comes in the form of antidepressants. Those who have particularly unpleasant symptoms might find that antidepressants work well to help them manage their symptoms. Doctors generally recommend taking the antidepressant before your symptoms start every year, and often will ask you to continue taking the antidepressants, even after your symptoms finish at the end of a season.

Psychotherapy, more commonly known as talk therapy, is also often used in conjunction with another method to treat symptoms consistent with SAD. Therapists can help you identify triggers, or things that make your sadness worse, and can offer helpful tips on how to cope with stress and anything else bringing your grief. Therapists are a great resource you can use to talk about your feelings and come to terms with the things making your unhappy.

What Can I Do to Treat My SAD?

Alongside therapy, a lightbox, and antidepressants, there are a few things you can do to help manage your symptoms. Sitting closer to a light source when you’re at home or in the office, opening your blinds, and sitting outside for time every day can help you manage your symptoms. Getting exercise is another excellent way to handle your SAD–exercise releases serotonin and can help you develop a sleep schedule.

Have a question about SAD? Want to learn more? Leave a comment below with your thoughts!

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