Around 16.2 million adults experience major depressive disorder in the United States, making it one of the most common mental illnesses. But what many people don’t know is that different types of depression can affect a person.
One type of depression that is often talked about in the fall and winter months is seasonal affective disorder, or SAD.
Yup, It’s real, and you’re not alone! We are here to help you beat the seasonal blues, my friend.
In this blog, we’ll discuss what SAD is, the common symptoms of SAD, and the best home treatments for combating seasonal affective disorder.
What Is Seasonal Affective Disorder?
Seasonal affective disorder is a type of depression that affects people when the seasons change. Typically, people will start experiencing SAD starting in the fall, and it will worsen through the winter months, and start to get better during the spring season. However, it’s important to note that SAD can affect people year-round and people in all types of climates and regions.
Signs and Symptoms of SAD
Typically, SAD symptoms will start out as mild but will progressively worsen throughout the season. Some of the SAD symptoms people should be aware of include:
- Feeling depressed nearly every day
- Lack of energy
- No longer enjoying things that you would typically enjoy
- Difficulty sleeping or sleeping too much
- Difficulty concentrating
- Feeling sluggish and easily agitated
- Changes in appetite and experiencing weight gain or weight loss
- Feeling hopeless or worthless
- May also have frequent thoughts of death or suicide
It’s also worth noting that SAD is four times more likely to be present in women than in men, and it’s even more likely to affect younger adults than older adults. Also, if you have a family history of any depression, you will be at a higher risk of developing SAD.
If you’re experiencing one or more of these symptoms, it’s essential to reach out to a healthcare professional to get a firm diagnosis and learn more about ways to combat SAD.
Home Treatments for Seasonal Affective Disorder
Whether you’re suffering from SAD or you want to be proactive and prevent the onset of SAD, these home treatments are a great place to start. It’s important to note that home treatments aren’t always effective enough on their own, which is why seeking therapy or talking to your doctor is an essential step in combating seasonal affective disorder.
1. Light Therapy
The general consensus is that a lack of sunlight is directly related to the onset of SAD, which is why it’s more common in regions that receive little to no sunshine for several months a year, like Sweden and Norway! Yikes- did you know that they experience 24 hours of no sunlight during the winter?
That’s why light therapy is such a popular home treatment for people living in those dark and cold regions.
Light therapy involves sitting near a “lightbox” that emits bright LED light that is up to 20 times brighter than regular indoor lights. You should use a lightbox for short bursts of time, and for only up to two hours per day. It’s essential to only use light therapy early in the morning; otherwise, you may throw off your sleep cycle.
Ideally, light therapy should be started before seasonal affective disorder symptoms are present. This means once the days start getting shorter, you can start supplementing sunlight with a lightbox before any signs of SAD appear.
You can work, read, or just sit near the lightbox to experience the effects. Typically, the benefits of light therapy will be known a few weeks after starting to use a lightbox.
Light therapy isn’t an excellent fit for everyone, however. For example, if you experience eye strain, headaches, or blurred vision, light therapy might not work well for you. Also, lightboxes should not be used if you’re on a photosensitizing medication such as antipsychotics and some antibiotics.
2. Vitamin D
Vitamin D, which is synthesized by the skin after being exposed to sunlight, plays a vital role in serotonin activity in the brain. Without sunlight, your body will receive less vitamin D, which can negatively affect your serotonin levels, leading to seasonal affective disorder.
In fact, a lack of vitamin D has been directly linked to depression, and getting sufficient vitamin D has shown to help prevent mental illnesses such as depression. So, by getting adequate vitamin D, a person could potentially combat and avoid SAD altogether.
There are two ways to increase the amount of vitamin D synthesized by the skin. The first is to go outside and get more sun simply (but don’t burn). However, if you live in a region that gets little sunlight in the winter months, this isn’t much of an option for you unless you travel somewhere with more sunshine.
For people who live in dark regions or who work all day indoors, taking a vitamin D supplement is a great way to combat vitamin D deficiency.
Regularly exercising gives someone a plethora of health benefits, including the ability to fight and treat depression. While there isn’t a ton of research on exercise’s effect on SAD, there is a lot of research on exercise and general depression.
Because SAD is so similar to depression, it makes sense that exercising will also help people suffering from SAD. In fact, exercising is just as useful for depression as antidepressant medications for many people.
The main setback of using exercise to combat depression is that it can be tough to get started on something new while you are depressed. That’s why it’s essential to take it slow and ease into an exercise routine. You can start by doing light yoga or going for 20-minute walks each day, and slowly work your way up to an exercise routine that works best for you. This type of light exercise can help with anxiety as well.
Don’t Let Seasonal Affective Disorder Keep You Down This Season
If you live in a region that has shorter days and less sunlight in the winter months, it’s essential to know about these home treatments for seasonal affective disorder. By being proactive, you can prevent or lessen the symptoms of SAD and get through the seasonal changes feeling a lot happier.If you’re looking for more information on combating seasonal affective disorder, head into my office in Washington, DC!