Every year, we set our clocks forward in the spring just to “fall back” an hour in autumn. However, that sweet extra hour of sleep also means less daylight, more cold weather, and a host of mental health symptoms.
In fact, this simple time change has been linked to the start of seasonal affective disorder for many people — but it doesn’t have to take over your life every year.
What is Seasonal Affective Disorder?
Seasonal affective disorder, also known as SAD, is a depressive period that usually occurs in autumn and winter, though it can be part of any season — even summer. Experts believe this seasonal depression is brought on by a lack of natural sunlight.
Some symptoms of seasonal affective disorder include:
- Feeling depressed most of the day, almost every day
- Low energy
- Trouble sleeping
- Feeling agitated or sluggish
- Losing interest in hobbies and favorite activities
- Feeling hopeless
- Having frequent thoughts of self-harm, death, or suicide
In the fall and winter, symptoms also often include oversleeping, weight gain, tiredness, and cravings for carbohydrates.
In the spring and summer, however, can include weight loss, anxiety, insomnia, and poor appetite.
How to Cope with Seasonal Affective Disorder
Seasonal affective disorder comes every year for most, but it doesn’t have to ruin your holiday season. There are a few ways to combat seasonal affective disorder no matter when it appears.
The most popular treatment for seasonal affective disorder by far is a simple light therapy. Also known as phototherapy, this is a simple option you can do any time from home!
A light therapy box simply mimics outdoor light from the sun in the comfort of your home. When looking for a light therapy box, look for one that provides up to 10,000 lux of light and emits as little UV light as possible for protection. Also, sunscreen is recommended during any light therapy to protect the skin.
Before beginning a light therapy regimen, always consult your doctor. Lights should only be used for about half an hour at a time about 2 feet from your face. Ideally, eyes should be open but never looking directly into the light. This kind of treatment is usually recommended to begin your day within an hour of waking up.
A light box does not require a prescription, but some medications can also help with SAD. Many people benefit from antidepressants like Wellbutrin to stabilize during seasonal affective disorder. For the best results, medication should be started before symptoms typically begin every year. Like all prescriptions, you may need to try a few different medications before you find one that works well with minimal side effects. Before starting any new regiment, always consult and follow the recommendation of your health care professional.
Not all seasonal affective disorder treatments need to be expensive! While they may not treat all the symptoms, patients have benefited from relaxation techniques such as yoga, medication, tai chi, and art therapy. Keeping a routine is also incredibly important to keep SAD symptoms at bay.
One of the best ways to cope with seasonal affective disorder is through talk therapy or psychotherapy. Having a sounding board for your seasonal symptoms as well as having someone to track your regular symptoms and remind you why you are feeling more depressed in winter is critical. If you feel down for days at a time, a therapist, psychologist, psychiatrist, or registered nurse can help.
Contact Us Today
Mental health professionals are often well-versed in the struggles of seasonal affective disorder. Whether you struggle from anxiety and depression year round or just during specific seasons, therapy can help decrease some symptoms and get you back to your daily life.
If you or a loved one are experiencing seasonal affective disorder, no matter the season, we are here to help. Contact us to set up an appointment at any of our five locations or via telehealth.