Don’t forget to check out last week’s blog on coping with seasonal depression. This is part 2 of the seasonal affective disorder.
While the first part of the blog focused on the symptoms of SAD and examining whether or not you have winter, spring, or summer SAD, today will focus on possible solutions.
Light therapy mimics natural outdoor light and appears to cause a change in brain chemicals linked to mood. Light therapy is one of the first-line treatments for fall-onset SAD. It generally starts working in a few days to two weeks and causes few side effects.
Before you purchase a light therapy box, talk with your doctor about the best one for you, and familiarize yourself with the variety of features and options so that you buy a high-quality product that’s safe and effective.
If you’re using a lightbox for the treatment of SAD, Dr. Weil recommends taking the following precautions:
- Be sure to position the box at an angle so that the light reaches your eyes indirectly.
- Don’t look directly at the light box; doing so can damage the eyes.
- Be aware that certain medications and supplements can make the retinas more sensitive to light and therefore increase the risk of eye damage. These include the drug lithium and the supplements melatonin and St. John’s wort.
- If you’re bothered by the glare from your lightbox, the blue light it emits is probably responsible. You can screen out blue light by wearing special eyeglass lenses or clip-on during your daily treatment. There are also light boxes that filter out potentially irritating blue light.
Dawn simulators can also be effective for finding relief from SAD. These gadgets are alarm clocks with a twist. Instead of waking you up abruptly with loud buzzing or music, they produce light that gradually increases in intensity as if the sun is coming up.
Some people with SAD benefit from antidepressant treatment, especially if symptoms are severe.
Psychotherapy, also called talk therapy, is another option to treat SAD:
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.
Eat a healthy diet
While people with SAD crave comfort foods — starchy carbs, sweet treats, and more — eating that way ensures you’ll look and feel worse.
When you do get the urge for carbs, choose complex, whole-grain varieties, like whole-grain pasta and bread, instead of nutrition-deficient white carbohydrates.
Cut out caffeine, sucrose (sugar), and alcohol
Which one of these solutions would you like to try? What’s easiest for you to begin with? Who can help you with some of these solutions?
Some people choose to take a supplement to treat depression, such as:
- St. John’s wort.
- Omega-3 fatty acids.
- Vitamin D, the sunshine vitamin
- Fish oils
Mind-body therapies that may help relieve depression symptoms include:
- Guided imagery
- Massage therapy
Mood-lifting essential oils include bergamot, lemongrass, and clary sage. Lavender is relaxing. Essential oils from the poplar tree were found to help depressive disorders in a 2015 study out of Beijing that was published in the Journal of Natural Medicines.
Some general tips for coping with seasonal depression:
- Take care of yourself. Get enough rest and relaxation. Exercise or engage in regular physical activity. Make healthy choices when eating and avoid alcohol and drugs.
- Practice stress management. Learn techniques to manage stress. Unmanaged stress can lead to depression, overeating, and other unhealthy behaviors.
- Socialize. Try to connect with people you enjoy being around. They can offer support, a shoulder to cry on, or a joke.
- Travel. Take winter vacations in sunny, warm locations if you have winter SAD or cooler locations if you have summer SAD.
Set Goals and Create a Daily Routine
Create manageable goals. These might be very simple, to begin with – for instance you may have decided to exercise every day. Join a gym or go for a walk.
Your goals should benefit you and your well-being. Meditating for 10 minutes every morning is one example and it’s free.
Get a journal to write down what you’re thinking or feeling.
When to see a doctor
If you feel down for days at a time and can’t get motivated to do activities you normally enjoy, see your doctor. Also if your sleep patterns and appetite have changed or if you feel hopeless, think about suicide, or turn to alcohol for comfort or relaxation.
Take signs and symptoms of seasonal affective disorder seriously. As with other types of depression, SAD can get worse and lead to problems if it’s not treated.
Treatment can help prevent complications, especially if SAD is diagnosed and treated before symptoms get bad.
What you can do
Before your appointment, make a list of:
- Symptoms, such as sadness or lethargy.
- Depression patterns, such as when it starts and what makes it better or worse
- Mental or physical health problems
- Major stressors or life changes
- Medications, vitamins or supplements all with dosages
- Prioritize Questions to ask your doctor
What action can you take to feel better? What can you do right now to treat SAD? Do you need to see a doctor or other professional for support? What other support do you need?
Take Actions from the 2-part series on coping with seasonal depression and treating Seasonal Affective Disorder:
- Do you have SAD? Become aware of the symptoms and record anything you have been feeling, any patterns of depression you may have.
- If you have SAD, create a game plan. Think about things such as diet and exercise, alternative therapies, planning a trip, and a daily self care plan.
- Set goals and create daily routines. Do not have to be huge and chunk down into manageable steps.
- Who has your back? Who will be your support system? Who can you check in with to make sure you are okay, doing better or can tell you when it is time to seek professional support?
- Get professional help if you need it! There is no shame in this!
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