If you find it difficult to cope with the cold, gray days of late fall and winter, you might be like many others who suffer from seasonal affective disorder (SAD), also called seasonal depression. While it is normal to feel a bit down when the sun isn’t bright and shining, if you are feeling sadder than usual, it may be more than just cold weather keeping you inside.
Millions of people all over the world live with seasonal depression, but it disproportionately affects women over men. It is also more common in parts of the world that are further from the equator. Although some people also experience seasonal depression in the summer, it is not as common.
SAD is typically experienced when the days become colder and shorter. Symptoms can include:
- Major mood shifts during the season change
- Lack of energy
- Feeling irritated, hopeless, or worthless
- Loss of interest in activities you once loved
- Difficulty with sleep
- Thoughts of death or suicide
Tips for Managing SAD Symptoms
Light Therapy: Light therapy has been shown to help decrease symptoms of SAD. Light therapy uses a special lamp with white fluorescent light tubes covered with a plastic screen to block UV rays. Since SAD is correlated with less sunlight, experts recommend treating SAD at home by sitting in front of a light therapy lamp at 10,000 lux for 15 to 30 minutes every morning.
Exercise: Since the colder months tend to push people indoors, physical activity levels often decrease. However, exercise is a great way to combat SAD, as it will increase dopamine levels in the brain. Even yoga or using an indoor cardio machine can help.
Socialization: Summer naturally brings people together in the outdoors. But during the colder months, people are more likely to avoid social contact, which does not help with SAD. Even if you don’t feel like being social, force yourself to interact with friends or family because social interaction can improve your mood.
When to Get Help for SAD
According to the National Institute of Mental Health, those diagnosed with SAD meet the following criteria:
- Exhibiting major symptoms of depression or SAD
- Episodes of depression during a specific season for at least two years consecutively
- More frequent bouts of depression during a particular season than other times of the year
If any of these statements apply to you, then you may be dealing with SAD. Contact your mental health provider and see if they can develop a plan to beat seasonal depression for good.