Healthy Habits

Managing Seasonal Affective Disorder

Content Provided by the GBS Health & Wellness Team

It’s normal to go through times of sadness, uncertainty, or depression. However, if these phases begin and end with the change of seasons, it can be diagnosed as SAD or seasonal affective disorder. SAD is an emotional reaction to changes in the environment during the fall and winter months. Researchers have linked SAD to a biochemical imbalance in the brain due to shorter daylight hours and less sunlight in winter.

Luckily, there are many ways to recognize and manage the effects of SAD. Read on for risk factors, symptoms, and ways to manage SAD.

Who is at risk?

Knowing the risk factors is an important way to identify the possibility of experiencing SAD. Women are affected four times as often as men, typically between the ages of 20-30. Those who live farther from the equator, where daylight hours are shorter in the winter, are also at a higher risk. SAD is more common in people who have a history of major depression, anxiety, or bipolar disorder. Additionally, it is more common in people with family members who have had SAD.

What are the symptoms?

Experiences with SAD vary from one person to another, but many people have described symptoms similar to those with depression. This includes, but is not limited to, low mood, lack of interest in life, being less active than normal, sleeping more, changes in appetite, and difficulty thinking or making decisions.

Ways to Manage SAD

  • Vitamin D has a major impact on managing SAD. The body naturally makes this when exposed to the sun and it is sometimes called the “sunshine vitamin.” If outdoor sunlight exposure is not a realistic option during the winter months, a vitamin D supplement can suffice.
  • Light therapy aims to expose people with SAD to bright lights. It is intended to mimic natural outdoor light and appears to improve brain chemicals linked with mood. Doctors have reported this likely does not cure SAD but may reduce symptoms.
  • Exposure to sunlight – Try to spend time outside and soak up the sun. Consider rearranging an indoor office setting so there is exposure to a window during the day.
  • Exercise can help relieve stress and anxiety and boost mood. It can also help you maintain a routine and release endorphins that combat SAD.
  • Medication – Some people with SAD benefit from antidepressant medication in addition to other natural remedies. Talk with a doctor about possible medication options. They will be able to recommend a correct dosage, when to start the treatment, and how to adjust as needed.
  • Seeking help is an important way to manage SAD. Don’t be afraid to reach out to friends, family members, or medical professionals when feeling overwhelmed.

Fast Fact: SAD doesn’t only occur in the winter. While winter is the peak season for SAD, some experience summer SAD, which is triggered by heat and sunlight.

References
https://www.nimh.nih.gov/health/publications/seasonal-affective-disorder/index.shtml#pub4
https://www.mayoclinic.org/diseases-conditions/seasonal-affective-disorder/diagnosis-treatment/drc-20364722

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