Recognizing and treating seasonal affective disorder
After the holidays end, things may no longer seem merry and bright. Without the hustle and bustle of the holiday season, the influx of family and the near-constant sugar high from all those gingerbread cookies we were indulging in, something called seasonal affective disorder may sneak up on us.
Seasonal affective disorder, or SAD, is depression brought on by the change of seasons and is often related to a lack of sunlight, which can reduce the serotonin levels in our brains. Serotonin affects mood, so symptoms of SAD can include things like feelings of hopelessness, low energy, irritability and problems sleeping.
Other symptoms may include:
- Loss of interest in activities you usually enjoy
- Avoidance of others, like family and friends
- Difficulty concentrating or remember details
- Changes in weight
- Suicidal thoughts
Anyone can be affected by SAD, but individuals who have experienced trauma, such as domestic abuse, may be morevulnerable to depression. Women are also more likely to be diagnosed with SAD, which also affects younger people more often than older adults.
Researchers with the National Institutes of Health pioneered light therapy to treat depression back in 1980. Since then, it’s been a common form of treatment for SAD. It’s thought to help replace the missing daylight that results from shorter, winter days.
Talk to your doctor before starting light therapy. Typically, your physician will recommend sitting in front of a light box for around 30 minutes every morning. One study showed symptoms improved for 70 percent of patients using a light box.
Even without treatment, SAD will most likely go away on its own, but this can take up to five months, when the days start getting longer. Another promising solution to try is called cognitive behavioral therapy, or CBT, a type of talk therapy. In CBT, you will work on identifying negative thoughts and reframing them into something more positive. You’ll also identify pleasurable behaviors that you can start doing to keep you engaged with others, such as scheduling a regular lunch date with a friend or volunteering.
Another way to help fight the symptoms of depression is by getting a steady amount of quality sleep every night. Learn how in “6 Ways to Get Better Sleep”.