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How to Manage Seasonal Affective Disorder

March 02, 2020 | Renee Leber, LISW-S

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Seasonal Affective Disorder is a clinical depression where problematic symptoms occur for longer than two weeks during a season change reoccurring for two years in a row. According to the National Institute of Mental Health, over 10 million Americans are affected yearly. Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD) is different from the “winter blues” which can be described as a minor period of time where one has less energy, wants to sleep more, and can feel more down than usual.

Have you noticed your mood being impacted by the weather, especially in the Fall and Winter months? Do you notice others around you saying, “Get over it because you should be used to this Ohio weather?" It may actually not be so easy to “get over it” as it  you could be suffering from a medical condition called Seasonal Affective Disorder or commonly known as SAD.

Seasonal Affective Disorder Symptoms

Symptoms of SAD can include being less physically active and engaging in social isolation. When the weather gets colder out and it’s dark outside when people wake up and get off of school or work, it impacts their mindset. People can even demonstrate a weight gain due to finding comfort in foods and not getting out of the house as often as they would in the Spring and Summer months. Some even suffer from physical aches and pains due to the cold weather and “heaviness” of depression. Many people complain of fatigue even though they are sleeping more either by taking more naps or sleeping longer periods of time at night. SAD can cause feelings of hopelessness, guilt, indecisiveness, and criticism towards themselves and others.

The exact reason why Seasonal Affect Disorder impacts some people and not others is not known. However, it is believed that those who have family history of depressive disorders are more likely to be effected by SAD. It is also thought that chemicals in the brain are a huge influencer as the darker days can lead to more melatonin being produced causing fatigue. Additionally, the lack of sunlight causes dysregulation in serotonin levels as well as vitamin D, according to National Institute of Mental Health. Due to these chemical contributors, treatment for SAD can range from supplements or medication to therapy.

How to Fight Seasonal Affective Disorder

There are many things you can do to combat these feelings including becoming more physically and socially active, eating vitamin D enriched foods and taking supplements, or a referral to a mental health specialist for talk therapy and medication management. Light therapy can also be a benefit for many individuals. Being outside for at least 30 minutes can help boost your morale and serotonin levels. If you cannot go outside, then be mindful of where you sit, choosing to sit near windows where you can enjoy the sunlight. You can also invest in a light lamp you can sit under for 30 to 60 minutes a day in intervals. The bright artificial light mimics outdoor light for a period of time to regulate your brain and mood. This technique is so common that even some libraries in bigger cities allow their patrons to check out light lamps along with their books.

If you are concerned that you or a loved one is affected by SAD then you should speak to your doctor to find the best option for you. And keep in mind, Spring is right around the corner!

Renee Leber, LISW-S, is a therapist with Fisher-Titus Behavioral Health, 282 Benedict Avenue, Medical Park 2, Suite C in Norwalk on the Fisher-Titus Medical Center campus. She offers psychotherapy services to all age groups, addressing abuse, trauma, adjustment disorders, disruptive behaviors, social and family issues, anxiety and depressive and bipolar disorders. For more about Fisher-Titus Behavioral Health, visit https://www.fishertitus.org/behavioral-health.