Mental Health and Winter: Seasonal Affective Disorder
By: Carolyn Mish, Contributing Writer
Naturally, our emotions fluctuate as we move through stages of our lives. Experiencing occasional sadness alongside joy is normal. However, when these feelings of sadness are prolonged and intense, there is cause for concern. Depression is common, with more than 264 million people worldwide battling it, that number growing every day. There are effective ways to treat depression, between prescription medications to correct brain chemistry and talk therapy. However, a less commonly known type of depression is seasonal affective disorder, otherwise known as seasonal depression.
Seasonal affective disorder (SAD) is characterized by the cycle in which it manifests. Most commonly, those who deal with SAD experience 4-5 months of symptoms during the fall and winter seasons, with symptoms lessening after the season ends. Symptoms include increased fatigue and daytime sleepiness, feeling sad or depressed, changes in the sleep cycle, difficulty concentrating, and suicidal thoughts. If you experience any of these symptoms, do not be afraid to seek help. Professional physicians and therapists alike can help alleviate symptoms through a variety of treatments, and you don’t have to be alone in your feelings.
Treating seasonal affective disorder is complicated, but entirely possible. Symptoms typically improve as the season ends, but managing symptoms before and during the season can minimize them. Talk therapy is helpful with depression, and finding a therapist or psychiatrist to help work through emotions is proven to improve the condition in time. Additionally, medication can be used to treat feelings of depression. Selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs) are the most commonly prescribed treatment for seasonal affective disorder. They work by increasing the amount of serotonin, a primary neurotransmitter, in the brain.
Light therapy is also shown to improve symptoms. Light therapy boxes emit a specific type of bright light (that filters out unwanted UV rays). By sitting in front of the box for twenty minutes in the morning, people observe improvements in their symptoms. This is thought to simulate sunlight exposure that people lack during the winter months.
Even if you lack a light therapy box, maintaining exposure to nature is vital during the winter months. Regular exercise and getting time outdoors is also shown to improve feelings of sadness during winter.
While some months can prove difficult for those who suffer from SAD, the strategies above can help to create a positive healing environment, even when your brain struggles to cope with the change in seasons. Ultimately, if you feel that you may be struggling with SAD or are experiencing symptoms of depression or anxiety, it’s imperative that you reach out to a trusted adult, physician, or counselor who can help you feel better and gain the tools to work through your emotions.
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