As the days get shorter, do you find yourself feeling blue, sleeping more, lacking motivation, and/or craving carbs and sweets? You may be one of the estimated 4 to 6 percent of Americans who suffer from Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD).
According to Ken Duckworth, MD, medical director for the National Alliance on Mental Illness and assistant professor of psychiatry at Harvard University Medical School, SAD symptoms typically emerge during the darker winter months and fade with spring’s arrival. They include daytime fatigue, oversleeping, increased irritability and anxiety, trouble concentrating, social withdrawal, and a desire for comfort foods that leads to weight gain.
SAD is more common in women and in families where other members suffer from it, but it can also affect men and people of all ages, including children and teens. The good news is that SAD is treatable, and there are various techniques that may help you fight off symptoms or ease their intensity.
Use a light box or dawn simulator.
Light therapy is one of the most effective treatments for SAD. Using a specially designed light box that mimics natural light appears to cause a change in brain chemicals linked to mood. A dawn simulator can also be used right before awakening to gradually brighten your room until you wake up at full sunrise.
Outdoor light is far more intense than the light coming through a window. Aim to get outside every day or as often as possible, even on cold or cloudy days. The ideal time is around noon when the sun is at its brightest.
Exercise is a proven depression fighter and mood booster, and it has been shown to help alleviate SAD. Incorporating moderate exercise into your routine can be as simple as taking a walk at lunchtime or starting a regular at-home yoga practice.
Explore alternative techniques.
Herbal remedies, supplements and mind-body techniques are alternative options that may help ease depression symptoms. For instance studies have shown that essential oils may have the effect of an antidepressant on depressive disorders. Relaxation techniques, mediation, and guided imagery may also provide relief.
Stick to a schedule.
People suffering from SAD often gain weight and can’t sleep during the winter months. Creating a schedule that establishes set times to eat and allows you to wake up daily at the same time can help you manage these issues and improve your mental outlook.
Seek professional help.
SAD is a form of depression. If therapeutic options do not help alleviate your symptoms, talk with your doctor or a mental health professional about a treatment plan that is right for you.