The days are short, and the nights are long. The sun rises between 7:30 and 8 a.m. and sets about 5 p.m. throughout the month of December. With such little sunlight throughout the day, many people suffer from SAD, or seasonal affective disorder.
According to the Mayo Clinic, SAD is “a type of depression that’s related to changes in seasons.” It begins and ends at about the same time every year, starting in the fall and continuing throughout the winter months. Less often, some people experience SAD in the spring or early summer. SAD has been known to sap your energy and make you feel moody.
Living in Ohio, where along with the days being short, they’re also usually gloomy, it’s a recipe for the winter blues.
Not sure if you suffer from SAD? Here are the signs and symptoms:
• Feeling depressed most of the day, nearly every day
• Losing interest in activities you once enjoyed
• Having low energy
• Having problems with sleeping
• Experiencing changes in your appetite or weight
• Feeling sluggish or agitated
• Having difficulty concentrating
• Feeling hopeless, worthless or guilty
• Having frequent thoughts of death or suicide
Symptoms specific to winter onset SAD are:
• Appetite changes, especially a craving for foods high in carbohydrates
• Weight gain
• Tiredness or low energy
Knowing the symptoms can help you treat them. Nobody wants to be down in the dumps for almost half of the year. So what can you do?
First, see a doctor or mental health professional to get an official diagnosis.
From there, you can try different treatments. There are plenty from which to choose. According to the Mayo Clinic, the following treatments help manage SAD.
• Light therapy
In light therapy, also called phototherapy, you sit a few feet from a special light box within the first hour of waking up. The light emitted is bright and mimics natural outdoor light. This helps keep your circadian rhythm in check during the months when it’s still dark in the morning.
Research on light therapy is limited, but it appears to be effective for most people suffering from SAD. Do your research to find an effective light box.
If your symptoms are very severe, antidepressant medication might be the best treatment. Your doctor can work with you to recommend what to take and when to take it.
Psychotherapy, also called talk therapy, is another treatment option. Cognitive behavioral therapy, a type of psychotherapy, might help you. With cognitive behavioral therapy, you identify and change negative thoughts and behaviors, learn healthy ways to cope with SAD and learn how to manage stress.
• Mind-body connection
Trying different mind-body techniques can help treat SAD. Relaxation techniques such as yoga or tai chi, meditation, guided imagery and music or art therapy all can help.
• Lifestyle and home remedies
In addition to the treatments listed above, SAD sufferers can try the following to help relieve symptoms.
• Make your environment brighter. Open blinds, trim tree branches that block sunlight or add skylights to your home. Bright light indoors helps reset your circadian rhythm, leading to better sleep and a better mood.
• Get outside. Take a long walk, eat lunch outdoors or simply soak up the sun. Even on cold or cloudy days, outdoor light can help, especially if you get outside within the first two hours of waking up.
• Exercise regularly. Exercise and physical activity help relieve stress and anxiety, both of which can increase SAD symptoms.
EverydayHealth.com also has helpful tips to ease symptoms of SAD.
•Use dawn simulators.
These are alarm clocks, but instead of abruptly waking you up with loud sounds, they produce light that gradually intensifies, as the sun does naturally.
• Stick to a schedule.
Many people who suffer from SAD also struggle with sleep problems. Sticking to a routine of heading to bed and waking at the same time daily improves sleep, which can lessen the symptoms of SAD.
• Take a vacation.
This might be a little difficult in the era of COVID-19. But if you’re able to get somewhere warm and sunny, it can help improve your mood.
• Keep a journal.
Writing down your thoughts can have a positive effect on your mood. Getting the negative thoughts out of your system is great for your mood.
• Get more Vitamin D.
“Low levels of vitamin D were linked to seasonal affective disorder in research reported in 2014 in the journal Medical Hypotheses.”
Talk with your doctor about the best supplement for you.
• Be proactive.
If you know you suffer yearly from SAD, make plans ahead of time so you have things to look forward to. This should help on those days when you just want to lay in bed all day.
Sometimes even the best treatments won’t help. If you or a family member are in crisis, please call:
• Stark County Crisis Hotline anytime at 330-452-6000
• Crisis Text Line, text ‘4hope’ to 741-741 anytime
• Trevor Project Lifeline for LGBTQ youth anytime at 866-488-7386
• Trans Lifeline anytime at 877-565-8860
• Military & Veterans Crisis Line anytime at 1-800-273-8255, press 1
• Military & Veterans Crisis Text Line anytime at 838255
• Stark County Homeless Hotline anytime at 330-452-4363
Visit starkmhar.org for more information.