Getting in front of seasonal affective disorder

wicWhen I checked the forecast for this weekend I saw that tonight there could be some light snow tonight where I live, which is not unusual for mid-November in Upstate New York. But it’s a good reminder that for many people the coming weeks and months means a struggle with a particular type of depression- seasonal affective disorder.

From the Mayo Clinic definition: “Seasonal affective disorder (SAD) is a type of depression that’s related to changes in seasons — SAD begins and ends at about the same times every year. If you’re like most people with SAD, your symptoms start in the fall and continue into the winter months, sapping your energy and making you feel moody.”  For people who are already struggling with depression, anxiety or other mental health challenges it can push them into a deeper depression, exacerbate their anxiety and in extreme cases cause an increase in suicidal thoughts. 

Like other forms of depression there are ways to treat seasonal affective disorder, including medication, talk therapy, photo-therapy and more. If you or someone close to you seems to be exhibiting the signs of seasonal affective disorder it’s critical to be able to talk openly. Dismissing anyone’s mood is at best unproductive and at worst could cause someone to keep how they feel to themselves and avoid seeking treatment.

If you know from previous experience that this is something you struggle with, you can do some things to get out in front of it and hopefully mitigate the worst of it. The Mayo Clinic offers some ways to treat it that go beyond therapy and medication:

Make your environment sunnier and brighter. Open blinds, trim tree branches that block sunlight or add skylights to your home. Sit closer to bright windows while at home or in the office.

Get outside. Take a long walk, eat lunch at a nearby park, or simply sit on a bench and soak up the sun. Even on cold or cloudy days, outdoor light can help — especially if you spend some time outside within two hours of getting up in the morning.

Exercise regularly. Exercise and other types of physical activity help relieve stress and anxiety, both of which can increase SAD symptoms. Being more fit can make you feel better about yourself, too, which can lift your mood.

Take care of yourself. Get enough rest and take time to relax. Participate in an exercise program or engage in another form of regular physical activity. Make healthy choices for meals and snacks. Don’t turn to alcohol or illegal drugs for relief.

Practice stress management. Learn techniques to manage your stress better. Unmanaged stress can lead to depression, overeating, or other unhealthy thoughts and behaviors.

Socialize. When you’re feeling down, it can be hard to be social. Make an effort to connect with people you enjoy being around. They can offer support, a shoulder to cry on or a joke to give you a little boost.

Take a trip. If possible, take winter vacations in sunny, warm locations if you have winter SAD or to cooler locations if you have summer SAD.

I’m going to be taking this last tidbit to heart. I’m heading down to New York City this weekend, so if it does snow tonight, it won’t be on me. Take care!

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