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December: Seasonal Affective Disorder Awareness Month

Seasonal Affective Disorder
Feeling SAD?

Seasonal Affective Disorder, or SAD, is often referred to as “winter depression” because the symptoms are more apparent and tend to be more severe during the winter months. Thought to be related to the shortening of daylight hours and colder temperatures, Seasonal Affective Disorder affects an estimated 10 million American adults.

SAD is diagnosed more often in women than in men, although men typically report experiencing more severe symptoms. Younger people are at a higher risk of developing Seasonal Affective Disorder, as are those who have blood relatives with Seasonal Affective Disorder or another form of depression. And not surprisingly, states with colder climates such as New York have a much higher incidence (almost 10 times more) than warmer, southern states like Florida or Arizona.

Symptoms of SAD can include:

  • lethargy and fatigue (low energy level)
  • withdrawal from friends and family
  • persistent depressed mood
  • inability to focus or concentrate
  • changes in sleep and/or appetite
  • loss of interest in activities you once enjoyed
  • agitation, irritability or anxiety
  • lowered sex drive
  • feelings of hopelessness

What can you do about it?

  • Maintain structure. Developing and sticking with a routine can help your body feel consistent. Get enough rest by going to bed at a regular time and place an emphasis on establishing consistent exercise routines and eating healthy, balanced meals throughout the day that include lean proteins, whole grains, fruits, and vegetables.
  • Soak up the morning sunshine. Symptoms of Seasonal Affective Disorder tend to be worse in the mornings, just as people are getting out of bed. Take a walk outside or open the curtains wide to invite the sunlight in as soon as you rise.
  • Repaint your walls. Paint with brighter, vivid colors, like Citrus Blast, Pumpkin Orange or Sunburst Yellow. Yellows and oranges tend to remind us of glowing sunshine, beautiful spring flowers and refreshing citrus fruits, and have the power to cheer up even the darkest of moods and bring warmth into your life when it seems you’re surrounded by an endless winter of gloom.
  • Get a massage. The healing power of touch has been shown to alleviate some of the symptoms of SAD while giving much needed relief to tired, achy muscles. According to a study from the University of Miami School of Medicine, massage appears to increase levels of serotonin, one of the “feel good” chemicals in the brain. Tight on cash? Learn how to give yourself a massage here.
  • Invest in a light box. Light boxes have been shown to reduce symptoms of Seasonal Affective Disorder, according to the Mayo Clinic. Light boxes provide a measured amount of balanced spectrum light equivalent to standing outdoors on a clear spring day. This has been shown to help regulate the body’s internal clock.
  • Get outside. Whenever possible, get outside during daylight hours. Take a long walk, go make a snowman, eat lunch at a nearby park…do whatever it takes to get outside at least once a day. The more light you can expose yourself to, the more vitamin D your body will make, and the better you’re going to feel.
  • Book a trip. Have unused vacation time at work? You deserve a break! Plan a trip to a sunnier destination to help boost your light exposure. Not only is enjoying the destination helpful, but experts say just the sheer anticipation of a vacation can lift your mood.
  • Avoid alcohol. Alcohol is a depressant, which makes you feel tired. Over time, alcohol can even create a deeper form of depression. Controlling the amount of alcohol you consume or completely eliminating it from your diet will help in the fight against SAD.

Like depression, Seasonal Affective Disorder is treatable, so it need not be a death sentence. If symptoms persist, or if you are experiencing thoughts of self-harm or suicide, seek help immediately from your doctor or a licensed professional (i.e., mental health counselor, social worker, psychologist).

Most of all, remember that you are not alone in this.

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