Do you feel depressed during the winter months? Do you get the post-holiday blues that seem to hang on through February? If so, you may suffer from SAD or Seasonal Affective Disorder.
What is SAD?
SAD is a mental illness that consists of clinical depression which manifests during the winter months when the daylight hours are shorter. Researchers report that the decreased exposure to sunlight during the winter months could lead to an increase of melatonin and a decrease in serotonin, both of which are brain chemicals that need to be at appropriate levels to keep an individual’s mood healthy.
Couple that with colder temperatures, which often keeps people indoors more than usual and you have a recipe for fatigue, decreased activity, decreased motivation, sadness, increased appetite, sleep disturbances, and poor concentration.
3 Ways to Battle SAD
1. Light Therapy
For many people, light therapy is an effective way to combat SAD. Sitting in front of a specially designed light box for a brief period of time each day can affect the brain chemicals that affect your mood. It is best to follow your doctor’s recommendations regarding light therapy, and special precautions need to be taken for those individuals with bipolar disorder since light therapy can induce mania.
2. Social Activity
Maintaining an active social calendar can help ward off SAD during the winter months. It is easy to want to stay inside the home where it is safe and warm, but that leads to isolation which increases depression symptoms. Make a plan to put regularly scheduled activities on your calendar and stick to them no matter how you feel.
Attend church once a week or more. Plan a weekly lunch or dinner or coffee date with friends or family members. Join a writers’ group or other hobbyists’ group that meets weekly or bi-weekly. Go to weekly support groups. Take a continuing education class at the local college. Join a gym. Take an exercise class or cooking class or photography workshop at the local community center; anything to put yourself in contact with other people with whom you can socialize and form bonds.
3. Professional Treatment
Some people need medication to help manage their SAD symptoms or need adjustments made to their current medications. If you feel symptoms of SAD, which are listed below, for more than a week or two, contact your doctor for help.
Symptoms of SAD
- Appetite changes, especially a craving for foods high in carbohydrates
- Weight gain
- Tiredness or low energy
- Feeling depressed most of the day, nearly every day
- Losing interest in activities you once enjoyed
- Feeling agitated
- Having difficulty concentrating
- Feeling hopeless, worthless or guilty
- Having frequent thoughts of death or suicide
Don’t let SAD symptoms go on and on, thinking they will go away on their own. SAD is a serious disorder that needs professional treatment. Call your doctor for help. And if you are currently having thoughts of suicide, call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-8255.