Seasonal affective disorder (SAD) is a form of seasonal depression triggered by the change is seasons, usually in winter. According to the American Academy of Family Physicians, between 4 and 6 percent of people in the United States suffer from SAD. Another 10 to 20 percent may experience a mild form of winter-onset SAD. This disorder is more common in women than men and typically manifests in people above 20 years of age. Winter-onset SAD is more common in northern regions, where winter is longer and more intense. It’s important to find ways to cope with SAD, since all forms of depression limit your ability to live life to the fullest and function well at work and throughout daily activities.
Here are our tips for lessening the pain of SAD:
Light therapy boxes
Light therapy boxes give off light that mimics sunshine and can help aid in recovery from SAD. This light is significantly brighter than that of normal light bulbs, and it is provided in different wavelengths. If you have SAD, sit in the box for 30 minutes a day to stimulate your body’s circadian rhythms and suppress the release of melatonin. Light therapy is most useful first thing in the morning and some studies have found that one week of light therapy can be extremely effective.
Use dawn simulators
Dawn simulators can help some with seasonal affective disorder. These devices are alarm clocks that produce a gradual increase of light, just like the sun. Different types of dawn simulators are available, but it is best to use full-spectrum light, as this is closest to natural sunlight.
Talk to your doctor
Since SAD is a form of depression, it is best diagnosed by a mental health professional. There are various screening questions that will determine if someone is depressed and your doctor will be able to figure out whether it’s SAD or another form of depression. If you have SAD, therapy can help you through it.
Aromatherapy might also help those with seasonal disorder. The essential oils can influence the area of the brain responsible for controlling moods and the internal clock that influences sleep and appetite. Add a few drops of essential oils to your bath to help you relax. Oils from the poplar tree were found to help depressive disorders in a 2015 study.
As with other forms of depression, exercise can alleviate symptoms of SAD. Exercising outdoors is the most helpful, but if you can’t exercise outside, a treadmill, stationary bike or elliptical machine near a window are good alternatives. Exercise will also help offset the weight gain that is common with SAD.
Let sunshine in
If you have seasonal depression or SAD, get outside as much as you can during the day and take advantage of the sunlight. Bundle up and take a stroll during the brightest part of the day. When you’re inside, keep the blinds open to let in as much natural light as possible.