How to Deal with Seasonal Affective Disorder

How to Deal with Seasonal Affective Disorder

As the days become shorter and the available sunlight dwindles, many people will suffer from seasonal depression, also known as seasonal affective disorder, or SAD. But there are effective ways to deal with the problem.

According to the Mayo Clinic, the symptoms, including moodiness and lack of energy, start to manifest in the fall and continue through the winter for the estimated 4 to 6 percent of Americans who suffer from seasonal affective disorder. Other symptoms, according to the National Institute of Mental Health, include feelings of hopelessness and anxiety, sleeping more than usual, weight gain, loss of interest in doing things you normally find enjoyable or inability to concentrate.

The Mayo Clinic reports that some people who have bipolar disorder may have the opposite problem, known as reverse seasonal affective disorder. This is characterized by an atypically elevated mood and enthusiasm, hyperactivity or agitation, and rapid thoughts or speech.

When symptoms of either condition last more than a few days, it may be time to make an appointment with your doctor.

Treatment for seasonal affective disorder

Here are some approaches clinicians recommend to deal with these seasonal disorders:

Phototherapy: For those who have seasonal affective disorder, you doctor may prescribe light therapy in which an individual is exposed to a bright light in a box that acts in the same way as outdoor light. Effective for most people with SAD, it’s expected to work within four days with few to no side effects.

Psychotherapy: Though seasonal depression is believed to be a result of chemical changes, some people may benefit from meeting with a therapist.

MORE: 3 Tips for Finding the Best Therapist

Medications: People with severe seasonal affective disorder symptoms may be prescribed antidepressants, such as Paxil, Zoloft, Prozac or their generic equivalents. For those who descend into a SAD depression annually, their doctor may recommend starting medications before the season begins so there is a seamless transition.

Environmental changes: Those who experience seasonal affective disorder may want to take steps to improve their environment, including allowing more light through home windows. This can be done by opening blinds or curtains, trimming trees and shrubs so they don’t block light, or bring in brightly colored furnishings or accessories.

Spend time outside: Nothing can replace natural light completely. Though you may not be inclined to spend time in the cold, taking a brisk walk or engaging in outdoor activity can really lift the mood.

Exercise: Even if you can’t bring yourself to embrace the cold, you can still exercise on a regular basis throughout the winter. Consider enrolling at a gym for exercise options.

MORE: Guide to Fitness Centers

Supplements: For those who oppose the use of medications, some supplements are used to treat depression. According to the Mayo Clinic, the herb St. John’s wort, the hormone melatonin and omega-3 fatty acids are commonly used to treat SAD.

Editor's note: This is an updated version of an article originally posted on Nov. 28, 2011.

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