How To Beat the Winter Blues

January 26, 2024

Managing Seasonal Affective Disorder

After a long winter, it's common for people to experience symptoms of depression. In fact, roughly 5 percent of Americans suffer from a particular type of depression known as seasonal affective disorder (SAD).

What Is Seasonal Affective Disorder?

Seasonal affective disorder is a form of depression caused by changes in the seasons. While it most commonly affects people in the winter months, some experience symptoms in the spring and summer.

SAD is not the same as the holiday-related stress many people feel in the winter. Gift shopping, holiday parties and family visits can all significantly impact stress levels, but the causes — and treatments — are different from SAD.

Causes & Symptoms of Seasonal Affective Disorder

Researchers are still learning about the causes of SAD, but it's believed to be linked to differing levels of sunlight exposure when the seasons change.

Those who experience SAD during the winter months might struggle to get enough vitamin D during the day, affecting their mental wellbeing; those who get it in the warmer weather might have a harder time getting to bed when the sun's out longer, hurting their quality of sleep.

The symptoms of seasonal affective disorder are similar to other forms of depression. These include:

  • Low energy
  • Low mood (feelings of sadness or inability to enjoy activities that normally make you happy)
  • Difficulty concentrating
  • Trouble sleeping
  • Feelings of worthlessness
  • Overeating
  • Social withdrawal

Lifestyle Changes To Help You Feel Better

Millions of people deal with seasonal affective disorder every year, though that number is believed to be higher due to underreporting. When making a diagnosis, doctors typically look for consecutive years in which an individual experiences depression symptoms when the seasons change.

There are a number of treatment options available for those experiencing SAD. These include:

  • Investing in a light box, a device that emits bright light to mimic sunlight exposure.
  • Seeing a counselor to work through depressive symptoms.
  • Taking doctor-prescribed anti-depressants to mitigate some of the worst effects.

Your primary care physician is the best person to explain your treatment options, but there are also many steps you can take at home to help you manage your symptoms.

How To Beat Seasonal Affective Disorder

Exercising regularly has been shown to help reduce stress and anxiety. Getting at least 30 minutes of exercise every day — whether that's hitting the gym or going for a walk outside — can help you bring your symptoms under control.

Eating a well-balanced diet that includes protein, whole grains, healthy fats, and fresh fruits and vegetables can also help your body regulate itself, keeping your mind and body happy and healthy.

Since winter-pattern seasonal affective disorder is likely caused by vitamin D deficiency, it's important you're getting enough sunlight. If you can't invest in a light box, try carving out some time during your day to get outside. Even a few minutes in the sun can make a big difference.

Along with talking to your doctor, give these tips a try to help you feel like yourself again.

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