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  • Writer's pictureAttentive Psychotherapy & Counseling Center

Seasonal Affective Disorder



Coping With the Winter Blues


Winter can be a tough time for many reasons. We get stressed out planning for the holidays and exhausted once they pass. We might feel lonely and unmotivated to do much of anything if it requires venturing into the frigid, freezing cold. On top of it all, we're hit with the shortest days and longest nights of the year, which can lead to Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD).


What is SAD?


SAD is a type of depression specific to these winter months, caused by a lack of regular sunlight. It's more than just missing the joys of summer--It's a serious mental health concern. Symptoms tend to come in a seasonal pattern. If you notice the following symptoms every winter season, you may have SAD.


● Loss of interest in your hobbies or everyday activities

● Irritability, stress, or anxiety

● Persistent guilt, despair, or sadness

● Lethargy/fatigue

● Difficulty concentrating

● Increase in appetite (specifically craving carbs more often)



Treatments


If you think you may have SAD, there are some things you can do about it. Common treatments for SAD include the use of sun lamps, getting plenty of exercise, medication, and talk therapy.


Sun lamps


Sun lamps and light boxes can combat the effects of light deprivation in the winter months. These tools simulate natural sunlight, emitting bright white or color spectrum lights that stimulate serotonin. This results in improved moods, decreased anxiety, and boosted energy levels.


It's important to abide carefully by your sun lamp's directions for usage. It's typically best to use your sun lamp in the morning and you should only use it for the manufacturer's recommended amount of time. Too much light can cause headaches or disrupt your sleep pattern. (It's also important to note that individuals with Bipolar disorder run the risk of triggering a manic episode through the use of light therapy. Be sure to check with your provider before using these tools.)



Exercise


Though it can be tough to get outside during the daylight hours between work, school, and other responsibilities, just a few minutes of sunlight per day can make a big difference in your mood. A quick walk or jog outside releases endorphins into your bloodstream, making you happier and more alive.



Medications and supplements


To cope with the depressive symptoms of SAD, your provider may prescribe you an antidepressant. Your doctor may also recommend you take a Vitamin D supplement to compensate for a deficiency. Typically, our bodies receive plenty of Vitamin D by absorbing sunlight through our eyes and skin. Taking Vitamin D if recommended by your physician may help regulate serotonin production so your brain can better regulate your mood.



Talk therapy


A therapist can help you practice healthy coping skills to manage the symptoms of SAD. You'll learn to redirect negative thoughts, strengthen your support system, and have accountability for maintaining the habits that help you get through this tough season.


Don't be afraid to reach out for help with coping with SAD. Just because it only comes around for the winter doesn't mean you have to suffer in silence until the spring. You have options that can make the winter as happy a season as any other.

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