Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD)
As we move into the winter months, many of us are dealing with cooler temperatures and less hours of sunlight. Lack of sunlight affects our circadian rhythms and reduces serotonin. Both of these can trigger feelings of depression, like lack of motivation, low energy, problems sleeping, lack of interest in typically pleasurable activities, difficulty concentrating, feeling sluggish or agitated, even thoughts of death or suicide.
If you are feeling like hurting yourself, these are serious thoughts. Please get support and go to your nearest emergency room to be assessed. These feelings of depression should be taken seriously and can be addressed through medication, light therapy and psychotherapy.
What are your therapeutic options?
Light therapy is a box that emits light similar to sunlight and helps to regulate serotonin levels. Light therapy is usually used first thing in the morning for 15-60 minutes. There are few side effects to light therapy, but talk to your doctor about what type of light therapy would be right for you. Light therapy boxes range from $50-$150.
Psychotherapy helps by addressing negative thought patterns that might be making you feel worse, address activity scheduling to reduce isolation and learning how to manage stress.
Medication may help. Talk to your doctor.
What can you do now to help?
Take care of yourself. Get the right amount of sleep at the right times, e.g. usually 7-8 hours for adults. Refer to my Sleep Hygiene blog post!
Eat regularly and in a way that nourishes your body and brain.
Practice stress management. Be aware of what increases your stress and reduce it, if possible. Engage in healthy stress reduction. Exercise is always helpful. Find alternatives if your favorite exercise is less desirable due to weather.
Socialize. Being around people and nurturing relationships is a protective factor for depression.
Get outside. I know it’s cold and the sun sets early, so try going out during midday, maybe a walk at lunch. Don’t wear sunglasses or sunscreen so that your body fully soaks up the sunshine. Even if it’s cloudy, being outside will regulate your serotonin levels.
Some supplements that may help reduce SAD symptoms include:
Vitamin D. Vitamin D is synthesized by our bodies in response to exposure to sunlight. Research shows that up to 80% of Americans are deficient in vitamin D. Your doctor can check your vitamin D levels through a simple blood test.
St. John’s Wort
SAD is a significant disorder which can be improved. We don’t just have to wait until Spring. Reach out for help to improve your symptoms.