The coldest and darkest months of the year can cause many people to experience a low mood, low motivation, and low energy. The lack of sunlight, cold weather, and perhaps reduced social interaction and activity can contribute to not feeling your best.
How do we differentiate, then, between what is normal to feel during the winter months, and what can be classified as a depressive disorder known as Seasonal Affective Disorder?
Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD) is a type of depression that affects people at the start of a season and intensifies throughout that season.
For most people with SAD, it begins in the Fall and lasts throughout the winter, however there is the possibility of also experiencing this disorder in the spring and summer months.
SAD in the winter months is classified by some of the following symptoms:
Feeling sad or down for most of the day, nearly everyday
No longer feeling interested in activities you used to enjoy
Low energy, sluggishness
Oversleeping or sleeping too much
Overeating or binge eating
Having difficulty concentrating
Feeling hopeless, worthless or guilty
Thoughts of self-harm or wanting to die
While experiencing one or two of these symptoms every now and then may be normal for the season we’re in, if you find yourself experiencing several of these symptoms regularly, you may consider seeking treatment for SAD.
The good news is that there are strategies to help treat these symptoms and prevent them from worsening.
A few of the proven ways to treat SAD include:
Light Therapy: Also known as phototherapy, this type of therapy uses a lamp, called a light box, that mimics natural sunlight to help your brain increase its production of serotonin, a chemical linked to mood, and reduce its production of melatonin, a chemical linked to sleepiness. Light therapy involves sitting by the light box for about 30 minutes per day in the fall and winter months. Be sure to talk to your PCP regarding what type of light box is best for you.
Self-care and lifestyle changes: Focusing on eating well-balanced healthy meals, sleeping about 7-8 hours per night, sitting near windows when indoors, and getting adequate exercise (preferably outdoors in sunlight) can be strategies you try to reduce the effects of SAD. Since shorter days and longer nights may lead to social isolation, try to stay connected to friends and family as best you can. Talking about your experience with SAD can both help to relieve your symptoms and help others know how they can best support you.
Talk Therapy: If you don’t already have a therapist you can talk to, getting into therapy before or after the onset of SAD can be a great way to prevent the symptoms from worsening. Therapy can help you identify thought patterns that may be worsening your mood, as well as reflect on how past experiences have shaped your view of yourself, others, and the world. Cognitive Behavioral Therapy is an approach proven to be effective in treating depressive disorders, and can help you manage the symptoms of SAD and get back to living a healthy, fulfilling life.
Medication: Talk to your PCP or get connected to a psychiatrist who can prescribe medication, such as anti-depressants, to treat SAD as well as other psychiatric disorders. You may also wish to complete a neuropsychological exam to rule out any other diagnoses that may be causing symptoms. Keep in mind that this may not be a “quick fix” as most medications will take up to several weeks before you begin to feel the full effects of them, and some individuals try several different medications before finding the one that’s the right fit for them. Once you find the medication that works, however, it can be effective in preventing future depressive episodes.
While seasons are temporary, know that you don’t have to suffer through these symptoms alone.
There are professionals ready and willing to help you manage Seasonal Affective Disorder so that you can get back to feeling like yourself, even during these difficult months. Reach out to us at Revive Therapeutic Services and schedule your session with us today.