What is Seasonal Affective Disorder and 10 Tips to Help
Wonder why you find the Winter so depressing? Or why particular weather can trigger a low mood? Then you may have Seasonal Affective Disorder or known as SAD. Seasonal affective disorder is a condition in which a person experiences a change in their mood, energy and general outlook because of a particular season. It is a type of depression that you experience during particular seasons or times of year.
For example, you might find that your mood or energy levels drop when it gets colder, or you may notice changes in your sleeping or eating patterns. But if these feelings are interrupting your day to day life, it could be a warning that you have depression – and if the symptoms are coming back at the same time of year, doctors might call this seasonal affective disorder or 'seasonal depression'.
Here are some symptoms of SAD:
- lack of energy
- finding it hard to concentrate
- not wanting to see people
- sleep problems, such as sleeping more or less than usual, difficulty waking up, or difficulty falling or staying asleep
- feeling sad, low, tearful, guilty or hopeless
- changes in your appetite, for example feeling more hungry or wanting more snacks
- being more prone to physical health problems, such as colds, infections or other illnesses
- losing interest in sex or physical contact
- suicidal feelings
- other symptoms of depression.
How you can ease SAD
1. Talk with a Doctor or Mental Health Professional
Because SAD is a mental health issue and a form of depression, it needs to be properly diagnosed by a Doctor or mental health professional. They will be in a better position to distinguish whether it is SAD or depression. They can also refer you to other services or professionals that can help you with treatment.
2. Prepare for the Season
Just like you prepare your home for the winter transition, or even your wardrobe, you should start preparing your mind, too.
By regularly scheduling time for mood-boosting activities, you can help yourself feel physically and psychologically healthier. For example, going for regular walks, journaling, socialising, etc.
3. Bright Light Therapy
Exposure to light, even artificial light, is usually the first treatment option for SAD. The light from the therapy light box is significantly brighter than that of regular light bulbs, and is provided in different wavelengths. This helps keep your circadian rhythm on track. Typically, you’ll sit in front of the light box for about 20 to 30 minutes a day. This will result in a chemical change in your brain that boosts your mood and alleviates symptoms of SAD. You can find light boxes from loads of retailers, such as John Lewis, Dunelm, Amazon, etc.
4. Dawn Light Simulators
Dawn simulators are essentially alarm clocks that can help some people with SAD. But unlike standard alarm clocks or your phone, where the alarm is the worst sound possible in the morning, dawn simulators produce light that gradually increases in intensity, just like the sun.
There are different models of dawn simulators available, but the best ones use full-spectrum light, which is closest to natural sunlight. Researchers found that dawn simulators were as effective as light therapy for people with mild SAD.
5. Maybe antidepressants?
If light therapy or psychotherapy aren’t completely effective in relieving your symptoms, it might be worth considering prescription antidepressants to help you overcome seasonal depression, as long as you avoid medications that might make you sleepy. For this, it’s best to discuss with a Doctor of Psychiatrist as to what is best for you.
6. Prioritise socialising
Be prepared for winter and jump on treating SAD by filling your winter months with enjoyable activities. Research has suggested there is a causal relationship between social isolation and depression. So it’s imperative that you stay social over this time.
However, due to the darkness, weather, COVID, etc. staying indoors is maybe the only option, but there are ways other than in-person interactions to socialise.
When the winter circumstances make it difficult to leave your house, you can FaceTime with friends and extended family members or set up Zoom calls with them!
7. Stick to a Schedule
People who struggle with SAD often have trouble sleeping at night and getting up in the morning. Maintaining a regular schedule improves sleep, which can help alleviate symptoms of SAD. Keeping a regular schedule will also expose you to light at consistent and predictable times.
Exercise is known to alleviate depression and this is the same for SAD. Outdoor exercise is the most helpful for relieving SAD symptoms. But if you can't exercise outside because of the cold or snowy weather, substitute it for indoors and close to a window.
9. Exposure yourself to sunlight as much as possible
Make sure you soak up every inch of sunlight you can. Go out as much as you can, go for walks, open all curtains, blinds, sit in spaces that have natural light. Take advantage of all natural light.
Writing down your thoughts and feelings has a positive effect on your mood. It can help you get some of your negative feelings out of your system. Journaling works by helping you prioritise your problems, identify your depression triggers, and helps lift your mood.
The best journal for SAD, is the Uplifting Journal. This journal is specifically for depression and low mood. So will make the perfect companion during the winter months. See the Uplifting Journal here.
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