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Tips to manage seasonal affective disorder

Simple ways to brighten your day

Seasonal affective disorder (SAD) is a form of depression brought on by the changing of the seasons. Those who are affected by SAD often have it during the winter months when the days get shorter, darker and colder, sometimes called “winter depression.” People can also have SAD at other times of the year like spring or summer, called “summer depression.”

If you’ve been feeling depressed, here are some tips that you can help you get started on a treatment plan that works for you.

tips to manage seasonal affective disorderSymptoms of SAD

The Mayo Clinic outlines common symptoms of SAD, which may include:

  • Feeling listless, sad or down most of the day, nearly every day
  • Losing interest in activities you once enjoyed
  • Having low energy and feeling sluggish
  • Having problems sleeping or sleeping too much
  • Having food cravings, overeating and gaining weight
  • Having a hard time concentrating
  • Feeling hopeless, worthless or guilty
  • Having thoughts of not wanting to live

If you are feeling any of these symptoms often, you should talk to your doctor to see if you have SAD.

Treatment options

There are several ways that SAD can be treated. The National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH) recommends these treatments:

Light therapy

Light therapy is a common treatment for those who are affected by SAD in the winter months, but not the spring or summer months, and may be provided with antidepressant medication. It involves using a special light to help replace the daylight lost in the winter months. For this type of therapy, you’ll need to get a specialty lamp that shines a bright light of 10,000 lux and sit in front of it for 30 to 45 minutes each morning for at least a few weeks or longer.

Talk to your doctor before buying one of these lights to find out which one may be right for you.

Cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT)

CBT is another type of therapy that has been adapted to help people manage SAD. Called CBT-SAD, this type of therapy uses CBT techniques to help identify negative thoughts and replace them with positive ones. Behavioral activation is a technique that is often used with this treatment to help people find activities that bring them joy and plan to do these activities regularly.

Your doctor may recommend a behavioral health provider to you if you decide to start this type of therapy. If you need help finding a behavioral health provider, we have some tips.

Prescription drugs

Some people may choose to use antidepressant medications on their own or with other forms of treatment to help them manage SAD. SAD and other types of depression are caused by chemical imbalances in the brain, and some antidepressant drugs can help you manage this. When using drugs to help manage a behavioral health condition, it’s important to take them as prescribed and go to all follow-up appointments. There are a few different types of antidepressants you can take, so you may need to try different ones to find the best one for you.

Talk to your doctor about which medication may be right for you. You should also tell your doctor if you have any side effects and/or if your symptoms don’t get better or worsen.

Other tips that can help

In addition to your treatment plan, the Mayo Clinic suggests these simple lifestyle changes that can help:

  • Brighten up your environment by sitting near windows or leaving blinds and curtains open
  • Do activities outside so you have more exposure to sunlight
  • Try to get regular exercise, which can help relieve stress and anxiety
  • Get on a sleep schedule by waking up and going to bed at the same time each day, while aiming to get at least seven hours of sleep each night

Get help

Whichever treatment plan you follow, it’s important to stick with it so you can stay on track to feeling better. If you have any of the symptoms above for SAD, talk to your doctor. Mental health concerns should be addressed right away, just like any other health issue.

Posted: January 26, 2022