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Psychiatric Rehabilitation Specialists
Established in 1977

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Seasonal Depression: What It Is and How to Manage It

It’s that time of year again. The days are shorter, the weather is colder, and you may find yourself feeling a little down. If you suffer from seasonal depression, also known as seasonal affective disorder (SAD), you’re not alone. According to the American Psychiatric Association, SAD is a type of depression that occurs during the same time each year, usually starting in the fall and lasting through the winter.

While the exact cause of SAD is unknown, it is believed to be related to the changes in daylight during the fall and winter months. The reduced sunlight may throw off your body’s natural sleep rhythm, which can lead to feelings of depression. Additionally, a family history of depression, being female, and living in a cold climate are other factors that increase the risk of developing SAD.

If you’re feeling down this time of year, there are things you can do to help ease your symptoms. Here are a few tips:

  • Get outside: Make the most of the sunny days whenever they appear by getting outside and taking a walk or doing something else you enjoy in the great outdoors. Having natural light around will help you to boost your mood and improve your well-being.
  • Exercise: The benefits of exercising include producing mood-boosting endorphins, reducing stress, and improving overall health. Maintaining a moderate level of exercise is essential, as it won’t tax your body too much or leave you feeling drained.
  • Eat healthily: You will be able to feel more energetic and have a greater sense of well-being if you follow a healthy diet plan. Ensure that you consume plenty of fruits, vegetables, and whole grains throughout the day.
  • Connect with others: Keeping in touch with friends and family is one of the best ways to ward off feelings of loneliness and isolation. Regular plans or phone calls with loved ones can make a big difference. You should also talk to your doctor if you are feeling down and are not getting better despite what you are doing to help.

The winter months can be tricky, but you can make it through with perseverance and patience. These tips can help you manage your seasonal depression and make the most of the season.

What are the Treatment Options for Seasonal Depression?

The most effective treatment for SAD is light therapy, also known as phototherapy. Light therapy involves sitting in front of a light box that emits a bright light for a prolonged period. This light emulates the effects of natural sunlight in the body and helps regulate sleep-wake cycles and the production of serotonin in the body.

A light therapy program is usually started in the fall, just before the onset of the symptoms of SAD. A typical course of treatment consists of 30 minutes a day; however, the time may need to be extended depending on how well the patient responds to the treatment—most people who use light therapy experience a significant improvement in symptoms.

In addition to light therapy, other treatment options for SAD include:

  • Antidepressant medications: Several different types of antidepressants can be used to treat SAD, including selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs), which are commonly prescribed. SSRIs work by increasing the level of serotonin in the brain.
  • Psychotherapy: By discussing your depression with a therapist, you may be able to identify and change any negative thought patterns that may be contributing to your depression.
  • Vitamin D Supplements: There is some evidence that vitamin D may play a role in developing SAD. Vitamin D supplements may help improve symptoms if you take them regularly.

Getting Treatment

Don’t be afraid to contact a mental health professional if you’re struggling with seasonal depression. There are a variety of treatment options available that can help you get through this difficult time. If you’re working with intense depressive periods during fall and winter that last for one week or more, consider seeing a behavioral health specialist. A therapist, case manager, or psychiatrist can help you cope with these darker times if you’re willing to speak honestly about your feelings and experiences with them. In addition to identifying triggers, therapy can help you learn coping skills to handle anxiety and depression. Cognitive behavior therapy, in particular, has shown promise for treating SAD. Contact Life Adjustment Team today to learn more about our therapy programs.