Seasonal Affective Disorder is more than the winter blues. People who suffer from Seasonal Affective Disorder experience a prolonged depression each year when the days grow short. Think you might be suffering from Seasonal Affective Disorder? Read on to learn how to recognize and treat this common mental illness.
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What is Seasonal Affective Disorder?
Seasonal Affective Disorder, or SAD, is a common type of depression brought on by the change in seasons and usually occurs every year in the early fall and into the winter. SAD is triggered by shortening days and reduced sunlight in fall, and typically persists until spring when the days lengthen. It's most common in higher latitudes where sunlight can dip below 8 hours per day in winter.
This change in sunlight affects brain chemistry and hormones. The result is poor sleep and depressed moods. A person experiencing SAD may feel lethargic, unmotivated, and withdrawn. They may have difficulty focusing, socializing, and maintaining healthy habits. Thankfully, there are several things you can do to counteract the symptoms of SAD.
How is Seasonal Affective Disorder Treated?
There are several methods for treating Seasonal Affective Disorder. While some people may find success with just one treatment method, others feel best when they combine several strategies.
Since SAD is triggered by diminishing daylight, one of the best treatments for the disorder is light therapy. Light therapy involves exposing oneself to a light box, which emanates a bright light that simulates sunlight. According to the National Institutes of Health, light therapy alleviates symptoms for up to 70 percent of patients with Seasonal Affective Disorder. Most patients are recommended to spend 30 minutes per day in front of a light box, ideally in the morning.
As with other types of depression, changing your habits is also an effective way to relieve SAD symptoms. While it's difficult to find motivation for socializing, exercising, and spending time outside when you're feeling depressed, these are proven strategies for increasing your energy and lifting your mood. Introspective activities like journaling and meditation can also reduce depressive symptoms, as can keeping a clean and organized home. While it's tempting to indulge in high-carb foods when feeling down, eating a diet high in vegetables and whole grains and supplementing with probiotics is the best recipe for a healthy gut-brain axis.
Cognitive Behavioral Therapy
Research suggests that cognitive behavioral therapy, or CBT, may be more effective than light therapy in treating SAD. CBT is a type of psychotherapy that focuses on changing negative thought patterns. When CBT is successful, patients adopt healthier ways of thinking and acting that make it easier to cope with difficult situations. CBT is best done under the guidance of a licensed therapist, although mental health apps can be valuable tools to support treatment.
When SAD persists despite non-pharmacological treatments and behavioral changes, medication is the next line of defense. Bupropion medications like Wellbutrin are the most commonly prescribed medication for SAD, although SSRIs may also be prescribed. Because mental health depression has been linked to inflammation in the brain, some patients choose to supplement with cannabinol (CBD). CBD not only has anti-inflammatory properties, it may also help regulate the core bodily functions that control sleep, appetite, and mood.
So, what's the takeaway? Seasonal Affective Disorder may be common, but that doesn't mean you have to live with it. If you're feeling more blue than usual this winter and the feelings of sadness and listlessness aren't going away, it's time to talk to your doctor. With the right treatment, you can spend this winter and every winter in good spirits.