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  • Rachel Schultz, B.S.

Seasonal Affective Disorder – The Big SAD

Fall has arrived and winter is broaching sooner than we may think. While this is a lovely time of the year for most – beautiful fall leaves, pumpkin scented candles, the holiday season, being around family, and many more – it can also bring Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD) for some.

SAD is a specific type of depression related to the changing of seasons. 5% of adults in the U.S. will experience SAD, and symptoms will be present for around 40% of the year. For those with fall and winter SAD, symptoms begin in the fall months, worsen in the winter, and end with the arrival of spring. With it being in the midst of fall, and daylight savings ending soon leaving us with fewer hours of daylight, symptoms may begin or worsen. SAD can occur for a variety of reasons, most of which are a result of the reduced sunlight. Some of these contributing factors are changes in your biological clock/circadian rhythm, a drop in serotonin, and an overproduction of melatonin.

Symptoms of SAD include:

· Feeling depressed most days

· Losing interest in activities you used to enjoy

· Low energy or fatigue

· Sleeping too much (hypersomnia) or not enough (insomnia)

· Changes in your appetite or weight

· Feeling agitated

· Difficulty concentrating

· Feelings of hopelessness, worthlessness, or guilt

· Frequent thoughts of death or suicide

While at times symptoms of depression feel unavoidable, there are certainly things you can do to help alleviate the distress caused by SAD. Here are a few:

1. Get a happy light

You can try to make up for the lack of light that you are not getting outside. Some lamps can be set with an alarm to mimic a sunrise/sunset. Studies have found light therapy to be effective in reducing symptoms of depression, especially for SAD.

2. Exercise

You may hear some health professionals refer to exercise as the “natural antidepressant” and that’s because it’s true! It releases natural feel-good endorphins which can help to combat depressive symptoms. If it is warm enough and light outside, you can even opt to exercise outside to increase your exposure to sunlight. It can also act as a healthy escape to take your mind off of your worries.

TIP: if you’re feeling depressed, exercising can feel like a daunting task. To help combat this, just put on your workout clothes and shoes, with no promise of actually going to the gym. Sometimes this is the hardest part. Once you’re dressed and ready to go, you’d be surprised at how much easier it is to start exercising.

3. Eat a balanced diet

It is very common for those who experience SAD during the winter to crave carbohydrates more than normal. This, combined with the plethora of carby and fatty foods we eat around the holidays, can be a recipe for disaster (pun intended). You can certainly splurge and eat those delicious cookies mom makes, just make sure that your diet stays balanced. Studies have found a correlation between lower rates of depression and those who eat a balanced diet. If you give your body the nutrients it needs, it will thank you.

4. Self-care

Engaging in self-care activities is essential to your overall well-being, but it can be especially helpful to combat SAD. Whatever self-care looks like for you – doing a face mask, cuddling with your pet, watching a movie with friends, eating for favorite food – make sure to do what makes you happy.

5. Talk to your doctor

If your symptoms worsen or if you are experiencing suicidal thoughts, it may be time to talk to your doctor. You can explore treatment options like medication or psychotherapy. By talking to your doctor you can discuss your specific needs and create a treatment plan to best address your symptoms.

Symptoms from SAD can be overwhelming and feel inescapable. However, engaging in healthy behaviors and a treatment that works best for you can help to make them decrease and become more manageable. Hopefully these tips can help you avoid the big SAD. And if you have a tip that was not mentioned above, please leave a comment to promote positivity and well-being to other readers!

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