Seasonal Affective Disorder: The Winter Blues

Soon daylight savings time will end and if you are like me you will be fighting sleep at 5:00pm trying to stay awake until you feel it is a decent hour to go to sleep for the night. Some of you may be excited about the change and you enjoy the darkness and cool temperatures in the early evenings. Sometimes the change in time and weather brings about change in mood. You might find that it is difficult to get out of bed, you may lack energy and motivation, and you may find yourself wanting to eat more. All of these are symptoms of Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD).

Seasonal Affective Disorder is a subtype of depression that occurs and ends at the same time every year. Symptoms usually begin in fall and persist through the winter months. Seasonal depression can be present in spring and summer but it is unusual to occur in warmer months.

Causes of SAD include reduced amount of sunlight in the fall and winter months that affect serotonin the happy chemical that our bodies produces naturally. Melatonin, a hormone related to sleep has also been linked to SAD. The hormone is produced at higher levels in the dark and can affect sleep patterns and mood.

Treatments for SAD include phototherapy (bright light therapy) which slows down the production of melatonin. Light therapy has been effective in up to 85% of diagnosed cases. Another natural treatment is exercise. Consistent movement releases endorphins that give energy and benefit your body and health. If natural interventions are not successful, an antidepressant may be considered to assist with managing symptoms of SAD. You would want to speak with your doctor extensively about what would be best for you when considering the use of an antidepressant.

Other tips that can be useful as the seasons change, the time falls back, and you are resisting the urge to go to sleep as soon as you get home.

~Increase your social time. Time out with friends or family can prove to be helpful to prevent becoming withdrawn.

~Join a group. Maybe there is a fitness class/group or a book club you have been thinking about joining. This is a great time to get connected to be around other people.

~Change your routine. Monotony can make us sink deeper into a hole. Changing your routine can add some excitement to your schedule.

~Get up earlier. Because the sun comes up earlier you have more opportunity for exposure to natural light when you get up earlier in the morning.

~Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT). CBT assists in adopting healthier thoughts and behaviors to have more positive outcomes.

More about Light Therapy

Light therapy to increase production of serotonin during the fall and winter months and decrease the production of melatonin consists of being exposed to natural light daily for a certain amount of time. This is most generally done with a light therapy lamp or a light therapy box. Light therapy lamps mimic natural light in that they reflect all of the colors of the spectrum. Light therapy can be done from the comfort of your home. If considering light therapy it would be best to consult with your therapist or medical doctor to decide on the type of lamp for safety as well as to determine the daily amount of exposure

Additional Resources

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