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Tips for Combating Seasonal Affective Disorder

Tips for Combating Seasonal Affective Disorder

September 23rd marked the fall equinox, the date when there are as many hours of darkness as hours of light. From then on, the nights become progressively longer than the days. Many people like this time of year and the opportunity to enjoy cozy, indoor activities. For others, the changing of the seasons can have a negative affect on their wellbeing and trigger a condition called seasonal affective disorder (SAD).

What is seasonal affective disorder?

SAD is a form of depression that occurs in the fall and winter months when the days get shorter, the weather becomes overcast, and the temperature drops. It’s believed that SAD is caused by a lack of sunlight, however some people may be genetically predisposed to developing it.

Around 2-3% of Canadians will experience a severe form of SAD in their lifetime, with a further 15% experiencing a milder form. It tends to affect women more than men, and adults more than children, however after the age of 50, the risk of developing SAD declines.

What are the symptoms of SAD?

If you experience some of the following symptoms during the darker months, SAD may be the cause.

  • Feeling tired all the time
  • Struggling to sleep at night
  • Appetite changes, in particular cravings for sugary or starchy foods
  • Weight gain
  • Feeling sad, guilty, hopeless, or irritable
  • Avoiding people
  • Losing interest in activities you used to enjoy
  • Feeling tense and stressed

 

What to do if you think you have SAD

If you think you have SAD, the first thing you should do is visit your health care provider. They’ll be able to give you a formal diagnosis and discuss treatment options. They may recommend some of the following techniques.

Light therapy

Light therapy involves sitting next to a special lamp (called a light therapy box) that mimics daylight, for around 20 minutes to half an hour a day. Light therapy is proven to lift your mood and help alleviate other symptoms of SAD, such as tiredness and trouble sleeping. To get the most benefit, it’s recommended you use your light therapy box within the first hour of waking up in the morning, sit with it around 16-24 inches from your face, and use it with your eyes open (though avoid looking directly at it). There are some side affects associated with light therapy, so it’s important to speak with your doctor first to make sure it’s the right option for you. If you’re interested in learning more, check out the range of light therapy devices offered by Wellwise by Shoppers™.

Counselling

Your doctor might also recommend a form of counselling. One approach that has been shown to help with depression is cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT). CBT aims to help you manage your problems by changing the way you think and behave. The counsellor will show you how to interrupt negative thought patterns to improve the way you feel.

Spend time in the sun

Although the fall and winter months are darker than spring and summer, you can still make the most of the sunlight that is available. Try getting outside first thing in the morning once the sun is up and taking a walk outside at midday – bonus points if you take a walk in a local green space as nature has also been shown to boost the mood. When you’re inside, make sure the curtains are open and try sitting next to the window.

Exercise

Among the many advantages of regular exercise is that it can help alleviate the symptoms of SAD. Physical activity can increase feel good chemicals in the brain and reduce the chemicals that worsen depression. It can also boost your energy, help you sleep better at night, and help with stress.

If you’re dreading the upcoming months because of the effect they have on your mental health, know that you’re not alone, but also know that you don’t have to feel like this. There are a lot of treatments and techniques available that can help you bring light to the darkest of months.

 

The information presented in this blog post is designed for educational purposes only. You should not rely on any information in this post as a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, treatment, or as a substitute for professional counseling care. If you have any concerns or questions about your health, you should always consult with a physician or other healthcare professional.

 

Resources

https://cmha.bc.ca/documents/seasonal-affective-disorder-2/#:~:text=Seasonal%20affective%20disorder%2C%20or%20SAD,in%20the%20colder%20months%20though.

https://www.mayoclinic.org/diseases-conditions/seasonal-affective-disorder/in-depth/seasonal-affective-disorder-treatment/art-20048298#:~:text=A%20light%20therapy%20box%20mimics,to%2010%2C000%20lux%20of%20light

https://www.anxietycanada.com/articles/being-active/

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