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Winter Blues: How to Ease Seasonal Affective Disorder

3 min read

Not only are we dealing with brutally cold weather in 2019, but some have noticed they’re experiencing more than the typical winter blues. Even though Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD) isn’t an official diagnosis in the DSM-V of mental disorders, it’s still recognized as a form of depression that occurs during the change of seasons. People who feel happy and energetic during the warm weather may later feel flat, irritable, lose interest in hobbies, crave junk food, oversleep, and even suicidal when there is less sunlight during shorter days.

It’s not just something that’s in your head or due to a lack of willpower. Seasonal Affective Disorder is said to occur more among women, especially in their reproductive years, than men. If depression runs in your family you may be more vulnerable to experiencing Seasonal Affective Disorder. The exact causes of Seasonal Affective Disorder are unknown; however, professionals theorize that a drop in serotonin levels, melatonin levels, and your circadian rhythms slowing down, may lead to an onset of depression during the fall and winter.

[Read Related: 10 Ways to Nourish Your Physical, Mental, Emotional, Social and Spiritual Well-Being]

There’s a difference between wanting to stay in and take it easy, compared to how your seasonal depressive symptoms interfere with daily life. We can’t control how cold the weather gets but we can choose how to manage Seasonal Affective Disorder. Here are some ways to get relief from SAD:

1. Light Therapy

Purchasing a light therapy box has proven to help about 60 to 80 percent of people with Seasonal Affective Disorder. Being exposed to light that mimics sunlight for about 20 to 30 minutes a day can improve your serotonin levels. Before you start light therapy, talk to your doctor to monitor side effects.

2. Cognitive-Behavioral Therapy

For some people, a light box may not work, is pricey and time-consuming. Another option is to work with a trained therapist who specializes in cognitive-behavioral therapy. Our outlook on the world and how we feel about ourselves is influenced by what we are thinking and doing. A professional can coach you by breaking down your thought patterns, feelings and actions that may be leading to a state of depression. Some have felt that CBT was a more effective long-term strategy for Seasonal Affective Disorder.

3. Limit Alcohol and Caffeine

People understandably want an alcoholic drink or a latte to soothe stress. These drinks can lead to more depression and anxiety even while they temporarily uplift you. Alcohol, caffeine, and other stimulating drugs can interfere with your biochemistry, where those “feel good” moments later crash into suicidal thoughts and hopelessness.

4. Maintain Social Connection

Winter storms can cause plans with friends and family to cancel. The cold weather may discourage you from leaving the house to socialize and do activities that you would during warm weather. Being isolated and losing contact with others during the winter can exacerbate Seasonal Affective Disorder. Make sure you’re communicating with someone, whether it’s through text, phone calls, online support groups, volunteering, or spending time with your pets.

[Read Related: What Stops South Asians From Discussing Mental Health?]

If you feel that none of these methods are helping you it may be worth looking into medication. Many in the South Asian community do not like using anti-depressants— there’s no rule that says you have to take them. If you’re open to it, SSRI’s (like Zoloft and Prozac) and Wellbutrin can be effective for severe symptoms of Seasonal Affective Disorder. Talk to a medical professional to see which medication may be right for you.

Do you have any additional ways to combat seasonal affective disorder? Remember that even though symptoms feel exhausting when it’s colder when warm weather returns you can engage in things that maintain a positive mood.