It’s easy to get bummed out during wintertime. The days grow shorter, finals start to loom and the weather gets downright nasty. While feeling down at this time of year is normal, it’s important to monitor your symptoms to make sure something more serious isn’t going on. Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD) is a form of depression that strikes at the same time each year. These annual episodes tend to start in late fall and persist through the winter when the decrease in sunlight affects your melatonin production. This then creates an imbalance in serotonin levels, triggering cycles of depression. Read on to learn more about SAD and how to protect yourself from the winter blues.
The signs of SAD are similar to those of depression. Symptoms include changes in appetite and/or weight, changes in sleeping patterns, low energy, loss of interest in favorite activities, inability to concentrate, irritability, sadness and (in extreme cases) thoughts of suicide.
If you find yourself experiencing these symptoms regularly, set up an appointment with your doctor right away. Mental illnesses have a sad history of going undiagnosed, and Seasonal Affective Disorder, though frequently ignored, can be treated.
After discussing your symptoms, your healthcare provider will run a few tests to rule out other disorders. Once diagnosed with SAD, various treatment options are available. As with other forms of depression, antidepressant medications and therapy have been proven to reduce symptoms. Light therapy, a treatment specific to SAD, is a highly effective option with no known side effects.
During bright light therapy, the person sits a few feet away from a special lamp for a short time each morning. The powerful fluorescent bulbs mimic the sun and have proven to lessen the symptoms of SAD.
Whether you’ve been officially diagnosed with Seasonal Affective Disorder or simply want to nurture a sunny mood throughout the winter, there are plenty of good lifestyle choices you can make.
1. Exercise: Being active for even a short period of time can boost your endorphins, raise your fitness level and increase your self-esteem. That’s definitely worth making the time to do.
2. Eat right: Splurging on heavy carbohydrates and sugar may seem like a quick fix to sadness, but doing so will leave you lethargic. Maintaining a healthy diet full of fruits, vegetables, protein and whole grains will stave off depression symptoms by providing you with the energy you need to feel good.
3. Be social: Although the weather outside may make you want to stay in bed all day, it’s important to spend time with others. Plan fun wintertime activities, like ice-skating or a holiday party, to help you look forward to the season and stay engaged.
4. Go outside: Sure, there’s less sunlight in the winter, but that doesn’t mean you can’t enjoy the sun while it’s out. Try moving these activities outside to benefit from natural sunlight. Go for a walk with a friend to see the holiday lights or find the best sledding hill in town.
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