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For those of us who live on Long Island, winter can be a tough time of year. As snow storms bury us, it might seem like summer is far away. For many of us, though, winter hits even harder than most.
Getting To Know Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD)
Once thought to be “merely” the winter blues, SAD is now diagnosed as a real depression. It is a depressive disorder that happens only at a specific time of year (usually winter, though for some people, summer is their low point.)
Citation: The U.S. National Library of Medicine.
Some people experience a serious mood change when the seasons change. They may sleep too much, have little energy, and may also feel depressed. Though symptoms can be severe, they usually clear up.
The Mayo Clinic also lists the following symptoms specifically related to fall and winter disorders:
- Tiredness or low energy.
- Problems getting along with other people.
- Hypersensitivity to rejection.
- Heavy, "leaden" feeling in the arms or legs.
- Appetite changes, especially a craving for foods high in carbohydrates.
- Weight gain.
While the causes for seasonal affective disorder are not entirely known, there is a higher prevalence of SAD diagnoses in more northern climes, indicating that less sunlight is large factor.
Also, if you have had a bout of anxiety or depression in the past, you are at a higher likelihood of developing SAD. Women seem to be affected more than men, too, for reasons not entirely understood.
It is thought that the lack of sunlight causes a drop in serotonin in the body, which means less of our “feeling good” hormones circulating. In addition, it is possible that our Circadian rhythms become disturbed by the lack of sunlight, and, like animals, we feel the need to hibernate more.
Gaining Relief From Seasonal Affective Disorder: Techniques That Can Help, Solve Problems, And Reduce Affects Of SAD
Of course, our modern lifestyles don’t allow us to completely shut down during winter and burrow in. But many people have found relief with some of the following:
- Light Boxes or Light Therapy: these are generally the most recommended products for SAD. By sitting a few feet away from a light box every day (and thereby absorbing more Vitamin D and light), you may find some relief. As there are no side effects and this is generally well-tolerated, it is one of the first treatments to look into.
- Vitamin D: Some research has shown that a lack of vitamin D may contribute to seasonal depression. Health expert Dr. Weil recommends that “everyone take a daily supplement of 2,000 IU but notes that higher doses of vitamin D may be needed to effectively treat SAD.”
- Aerobic exercise: one of the easiest ways to remedy SAD is exercising for thirty minutes a day. Brisk walking counts! Of course, it can be tough to find the energy for this when suffering from depression, but your body and your mind will thank you for it.
- Limit or eliminate screen time in the evenings, if possible. Studies have shown that viewing bright screens at night, or any type of artificial lights, can affect our sleep. Our bodies were built to go to sleep when it’s dark outside, and by staying up late to watch an illuminated screen, we risk upsetting our natural rhythms (to our detriment).
If you have tried some of these tips, or even if you have not, it might also help to talk to a professional who is skilled in handling depression and seasonal disorders.
A good psychotherapist can recommend the best strategies for taking care of obstacles – both physical and mental – that may be blocking our health.
In addition, a therapist can work to understand the underlying concerns that many of us have, as depression usually has more than just one cause.
At Nassau Guidance, we work with each person on an individual basis to determine the best strategy and care. We take care to help you on your terms, and to assess each person’s unique needs. We have many years of experience in helping others to find their best possible health, and hope that you will reach out.