By Matt Koesters
Shorter days and grayer skies could leave you feeling blue. If you’re caught up in a rut that comes and goes with the winter season, you might be affected by Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD).
SAD, sometimes referred to as seasonal depression, is a type of depression linked to the changing of the seasons. While it’s usually associated with the onset of winter weather, it can sometimes – though less often – come about during the change from winter to spring.
“Don’t brush off that yearly feeling as simply a case of the ‘winter blues’ or a seasonal funk that you have to tough out on your own,” advises the Mayo Clinic. “Take steps to keep your mood and motivation steady throughout the year.”
Although the specific cause of SAD isn’t known, theories point to the havoc wreaked on the body’s biological clock by the shortening of sunlit hours. This can cause your brain’s serotonin and melatonin levels to get out of whack. Consequently, your mood and your ability to benefit from sleeping can be affected.
Symptoms of SAD have a lot in common with depression, including a lack of energy and motivation. It’s always a good idea to be evaluated by a mental health professional if you believe you have symptoms of a mental illness.
Treatments for SAD include talk therapy, antidepressants, and light therapy. Also known as phototherapy, light therapy entails sitting a few feet from a bright light.
“Light therapy is one of the first line treatments for fall-onset SAD,” according to the Mayo Clinic. “It generally starts working in a few days to two weeks and causes few side effects. Research on light therapy is limited, but it appears to be effective for most people in relieving SAD symptoms.”
The Mayo Clinic recommends consulting with a medical professional to discuss the best type of light source.
But there are also things you can do on your own to combat the symptoms of SAD:
Get outside: When it’s cold, we tend to go outside less often. Get out and get some sun when it’s out. Even when the skies are gray, it still beats being inside all day.
Brighten your environment: Open the blinds. Sit close to bright windows. Keep your environment brightly lit.
Exercise: “Exercise and other types of physical activity help relieve stress and anxiety, both of which can increase SAD symptoms,” according to The Mayo Clinic. “Being more fit can make you feel better about yourself, too, which can lift your mood.”
SmartHealthToday is a service of St. Elizabeth Healthcare.