Do the short days of winter leave you feeling tired and melancholy? If you experience symptoms such as lethargy, brain fog, and irritability, you could be suffering from a type of depression known as seasonal affective disorder (SAD). According to the American Psychiatric Association, approximately 5 percent of U.S. adults experience seasonal affective disorder.
SAD can last nearly half the year, so it’s not something to be ignored. Women, young adults, and people living in northern states are most at risk, although anyone can develop SAD. As Smithsonian.com explains, it’s even possible to experience SAD during the summer.
Treating Seasonal Affective Disorder
Talk to Your Doctor
As with all mental health conditions, your doctor is your first line of defense. In addition to diagnosing the disorder and ensuring there’s no underlying condition triggering your symptoms, your doctor can give treatment advice that’s uniquely tailored to you.
Many doctors recommend nonpharmacological treatments before prescribing medication. These are the most common treatments for SAD:
- Light therapy: Light therapy involves sitting in front of a light-emitting box, typically for 20 to 30 minutes per day in the morning. Light therapy can be initiated in the fall to lighten the onset of SAD symptoms and continued throughout the winter. Many people see improvements to depressive symptoms within a few weeks of starting light therapy.
- Cognitive behavioral therapy: Cognitive behavioral therapy is a type of talk therapy, and it’s considered the most effective therapy for treating SAD. Unlike light therapy, CBT can prevent seasonal affective disorder from recurring because CBT emphasizes changing up your thought patterns.
- Antidepressant medications: Certain types of antidepressant medications may be prescribed to treat seasonal affective disorder.
Some people suggest St. John’s wort, melatonin, or vitamin D supplements to treat SAD. While these dietary supplements may benefit some people, they come with side effects and could interact with other medications you take. As always, talk to your doctor before adding any supplements to your treatment regimen.
In addition to the above treatments, there’s a lot you can do on your own to alleviate the symptoms of seasonal affective disorder. Here are some self-help strategies that can increase your energy, lift your mood, and help you feel better despite the limited daylight.
- Spend time outside: Natural sunlight works similar to light therapy, but it’s even stronger. Try to spend 15 minutes outside each day.
- Get social: Everyone needs support from friends and family, especially during times of depression. Socializing also takes your mind off of negative thoughts.
- Journal: Sometimes it helps to get thoughts out of your mind and onto paper. Journaling also lets you track how activities affect your symptoms.
- Meditate: Meditation is beneficial for short-term stress relief and long-term mood improvement. You can learn to meditate in just a few minutes a day.
- Tune into your gut: Evidence suggests that your mental health is directly linked to your gut health. Probiotic foods, supplements, and a healthy diet can improve your gut health.
Take Care of Your Health
Don’t let a temporary depression derail your health. Make an effort to continue your healthy lifestyle throughout the winter. Not only do good habits prevent depression from snowballing into more serious health problems, but healthy habits can also alleviate the symptoms of SAD.
Continue eating a balanced diet, exercising several times per week, and sleeping seven to nine hours per night. A healthy lifestyle and self-care might not solve mental illness, but it’s difficult to overcome depression if you’re not treating yourself right.
In addition to everyday good habits, keep up with your preventive health care. Regular visits to your primary care provider, dentist, and optometrist prevent serious health problems from developing due to self-neglect.
If you struggle with SAD, we hope this advice helps you cope with your seasonal depression. And if you know someone with seasonal affective disorder, remember to be a little more patient and compassionate when winter rolls around. SAD is just as serious as other types of depression, but with time and support, your loved one will pull through.