Winter can bring on the blues for many people. For those who suffer with seasonal affective disorder, getting through the darkest, coldest months can be daunting. To better understand the condition and for advice on beating those wintertime blues, here is important information.
What Is SAD?
Some people don’t understand seasonal affective disorder (SAD), and some people understand it all too well. According to some studies, between four and six percent of Americans suffer with SAD, and up to 20 percent more may experience mild forms of the condition. SAD is a form of depression triggered by the changing seasons and is thought to be connected to the reduced number of daylight hours.
Most people who experience SAD live farther from the equator and are adults over the age of 20. Symptoms seem to decrease with age, and women appear to be more apt to experience SAD than men. Those who suffer with SAD may struggle with weight gain, cravings for starchy “comfort foods,” fatigue, anxiety, trouble concentrating, moodiness, feelings of hopelessness, and physical symptoms such as headaches. Some people may experience a summertime version of SAD with similar symptoms.
It’s important to understand that SAD is not a one-time thing. In fact, those who suffer with the disorder experience symptoms at the same time every year, and symptoms will improve at the same time every year. Some professionals note while symptoms can be treated, there is no known cure for SAD at this time.
There are ways to improve how you feel and manage the symptoms of SAD. If symptoms are severe, a physician may prescribe medication. There are medications approved specifically to treat SAD, called selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors. Sometimes behavioral therapists treat SAD patients, helping to improve their outlook and increase positive thoughts.
Light therapy is a viable option with several decades of proven effectiveness. A special light box which mimics natural sunlight is used, triggering feel-good chemicals in the brain. There are a wide variety of light boxes available, but most insurance plans will not cover the purchase. Mayo Clinic recommends talking with your physician before investing in a box to ensure you get one that is right for you.
Another version of light therapy is wearing a lit visor for the same kind of result as the box. Some people benefit from a clock that simulates dawn, allowing SAD sufferers to wake up more naturally than with an alarm clock. Psychology Today notes some success with vitamin D therapy as well.
Finally, a more general approach may also work. Mental health conditions, including mood disorders, have been linked to inflammation in the brain. While research is somewhat limited, it shows that cannabidiol, or CBD, may reduce inflammation and regulate your core functions that help control your mood.
Sometimes simple lifestyle alterations can help, like opening window coverings to allow in more natural light and choosing to sit closer to those windows. Going outside to increase exposure to light can help, even when the day is overcast or cold. Also certain vitamins like B-12 can give you an energy boost so you feel less lethargic. Exercise also offers big benefits; physical activity is known to boost endorphins and relieve stress, so it’s a natural way to combat the blues. Purge “negative energy” from your home by keeping everything clean and in its place.
Spending more time with friends, especially your furry, four-legged ones, may also help you feel more like yourself. The mental health benefits of a relationship with a pet are many. The unconditional love and affection your pet gives you releases more oxytocin, the love hormone, in your brain. It also reduces your level of cortisol, the hormone that causes stress.
Links With Addiction
Science shows there may be a connection between addiction and SAD, citing sufferers who self-medicate to offset their negative feelings, the effects of changing body rhythms, and alterations in brain chemistry due to seasonal changes. Therefore, addicts are particularly vulnerable and should be aware of symptoms and be proactive in managing the disorder.
Don’t Suffer With SAD
Help is available if you or a loved one is experiencing SAD. Symptoms of SAD are real and treatable. It’s possible for you to feel like yourself again, even in the dark, cold days of winter.