Coping with Seasonal Affective Disorder
Updated: Dec 13, 2021
Seasonal Affective Disorder, or SAD, is a major depressive disorder that occurs during the same season each year. Also known as the “winter blues,” SAD typically comes on in the fall and winter, when the light is diminished.
SAD is believed to affect nearly 10 million Americans and is four times more common in women than men. Many people experience symptoms that are severe enough to affect their quality of life.
Though not everyone will experience the same symptoms, here are some of the most common:
Feelings of sadness and hopelessness
A change in appetite and developing a craving for sweet or starchy foods
A drop in energy level
Decreased physical activity
Avoidance of social situations
Thoughts of suicide
If you suffer from SAD, here are some ways you can alleviate your symptoms:
By far the greatest relief, according to research, comes from the use of lightboxes. Lightboxes emit high-intensity light between 2,500 to 10,000 lux. Compare this to a normal light fixture that emits only 250 to 500 lux.
Lightboxes closely mimic the sun’s natural rays, helping our brains produce the right amount of neurotransmitters that are responsible for mood.
Depending on the severity of your symptoms, you may only need to use the lightbox for 30 minutes once a day. For more severe symptoms, people have found relief by using the box for long periods of time and can often feel true relief in as little as two weeks.
Some insurance providers will cover the cost of lightboxes, but not all do, so be sure to speak with your provider.
While it may feel counterintuitive, if not downright impossible, to get up and get moving when you’re feeling depressed, exercise is one of the best ways to improve your mood. Exercise not only reduces stress and tension, but it releases those feel-good endorphins. Studies have also found that one hour of aerobic exercise outdoors (even if the sky is overcast) has the same positive effect on mood as 2.5 hours of using a lightbox.
It’s common to turn to junk food when you’re feeling the winter blues. High-sugar foods tend to give us a temporary boost in energy levels and mood. But then we come crashing down and feel even worse. A better choice is to eat a balanced and nutritious diet, opting for complex carbohydrates like sweet potatoes and whole grains.
Speak with a Therapist
If your symptoms are very severe, and if you are having any thoughts of harming yourself, then it is important to speak with a therapist who can help you navigate your depression and offer coping tools. If you or a loved one are currently suffering from SAD and would like to explore treatment options, please get in touch with me. I would be more than happy to discuss how I may be able to help.
Stephanie Post, PsyD. at Higher Self Psychotherapy specializes in anxiety therapy, depression therapy, self-esteem therapy, and in trauma therapy online anywhere in California and in the Marina neighborhood of San Francisco. She uses EMDR therapy, Sensorimotor Psychotherapy, and IFS therapy to help clients thrive.