Seasonal Affective Disorder or SAD, is a condition that affects someone’s overall mental state. Seasonal Affective Disorder can also be referred to as a type of depression that tends to occur at specific times throughout the year. There is no one form of treatment for symptoms of SAD and a multi-faceted approach is often recommended. Generally symptoms can flare up in the fall months, as winter approaches. Symptoms can be so severe that they can drain you of energy and may lead to severe mood swings. In some cases, symptoms can start off mild but gradually become more severe as the season goes on. Common signs of SAD include:
• Lack of energy
• Loss of interest in daily activities
• Difficulty concentrating
• Increased weight gain
• Changes in appetite
• Increase food cravings
• Feelings of hopelessness
• Increased sleep activity
Not Just a Cold Weather Affliction
According to the Mayo Clinic, there are also some cases of SAD which occur as warmer months approach. This condition is called spring and summer seasonal affective disorder, which occurs at the onset of summer. These symptoms are slightly different and include:
• Weight Loss
• Lack of Appetite
• Generalized Anxiety
Treatments for Seasonal Affective Disorder
There are several ways to treat SAD. After a thorough examination and diagnosis, a medical care provider will be able to determine and recommend one or a combination of treatments in order to achieve both short and long-term success. Keep in mind that not all treatments are equally as effective with each individual. There could be other underlying health issues that could cause some treatments to be looked at more closely. Here we highlight ten often-successful methods for treating Seasonal Affective Disorder
1. Light Box Therapy
A light box is a device that is set up to give off high intensities of light. This is similar to the natural rays of the sun and can be used indoors year-round. Light boxes can produce up to 10,000 lux and these high reflections of light can help beat the winter blues by helping the body naturally release melatonin in the brain. In many cases, light box therapy can help relieve even severe depression symptoms in as little as two weeks after starting use.
2. Sun Therapy
The natural elements of the sun can really help as part of the treatment of seasonal affective disorder. Even fifteen minutes a day of direct sunlight can help relieve signs of sadness and depression. Because sun exposure can be harmful to your skin and increase your chances of developing skin cancer, wear protective sunscreen and clothing to help decrease the risk.
3. Antidepressant Medications
There are some antidepressant medications that may be able to help treat SAD. Medications that are in the SSRI or selective reuptake inhibitor group are often the best choices for healthy individuals who seek treatment. Some medications are used in conjunction with other forms of therapy to get the best results depending on the severity of the seasonal affective disorder, and if there are other underlying conditions such as Bipolar Disorder or mental illness.
Psychotherapy involves several types of treatment techniques that help to identify things that could trigger depression and seasonal affective disorder. Many times, an underlying cause such as a chemical imbalance combined with a hereditary issue can cause reactions that mimic SAD. A complete and thorough investigation into past and present behaviors that is analyzed by a trained mental health professional will help determine what form of psychotherapy can be used.
5. Improve Sleep Habits
Having enough hours to rest each night is one way that you can rejuvenate yourself and clear your mind. The National Sleep Foundation recommends that adults get between seven and eight hours of sleep daily. Getting enough hours of sleep is important because it allows your body to rest and rejuvenate which helps improve mood and gives you increased energy. Sleep can help with depression by giving you adequate strength to get through the day and face issues and stress much easier. Getting enough sleep will also help regenerate tissues and muscles in your body—aiding with overall health and strengthening your immune system.
Making sure that exercise is a part of your daily routine may also help curb feelings of sadness. Exercise is a good way to improve your overall physical appearance and enhance self-esteem. Exercise also helps improve health and fight disease. You should aim to get at least 30 to 60 minutes of exercise on a daily basis. Outdoor activities are an added bonus because of sun light exposure.
7. Healthy Diet
A healthy diet that includes foods from all of the food groups: dairy, protein, whole grains, fruits and vegetables can help improve your overall health and mental awareness. The USDA states that eating from all food groups is the foundation and building block for an overall healthy diet. When you eat healthful foods, your mind and brain work their best. Eliminating junk food from your diet will help give you energy and improve the way you think and feel. A poor diet can lead to weight gain and sluggish reactions, which is an open door for depression and stress.
While acupuncture is not considered traditional medicine, it is often referred to as complementary health. Acupuncture involves minimally invasive puncturing of the skin. It targets certain points to create channels or meridians that allow qi—a type of energy—to flow fluently through the body. Acupuncture may be able to help increase blood flow throughout your body and eliminate stress. Acupuncture can be a productive tool in helping to curb the symptoms of Seasonal Affective Disorder.
9. Stimulant Medications
After a thorough mental evaluation and physical exam, a doctor may prescribe stimulant medications such as Ritalin or Provigil. The reason for this is that these medications may help increase activity within the central nervous system. Used in conjunction with other treatments, stimulant medication along with psychotherapy and counseling may make coping with SAD symptoms more manageable.
Caffeine also helps stimulate the central nervous system and can help boost moods and spike energy. Because the main side effect of depression is sleepiness and lack of energy, small to moderate consumption of caffeine may help prevent feelings of lethargy. On the contrary, another symptom of SAD is insomnia. The goal is being careful not to over indulge in caffeine products. The end goal should be a happy medium so that there is enough energy to get through the day while still being able to rest peacefully at night.
There are several different methods and solutions for treating seasonal depression. A thorough physical exam that rules out any underlying illness is the first step in coming up with the best solution toward recovery.