Thursday, November 5, 2009

Are Gray Skies and Short Days Making You S.A.D.? 10 ways to help you manage your symptoms of Seasonal Affective Disorder

Autumn in the North is a magical time of year. The colorful leaves fall with the mercury. The air is cool, crisp, and clean. But for many people, there is a certain reluctance that comes with packing away the summer whites and taking out the winter woolens. Summer has come and gone. Winter is on its way.

Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD) is a common affliction for those who live in northern climates. SAD symptoms mirror those of clinical depression. However, SAD follows a seasonal pattern, whereas general depression is not affected by the calendar. SAD sufferers may feel depressed, irritable, and tired. They may find it more difficult to concentrate or pay attention. They may want to stay in bed longer and eat more. In severe cases, SAD can lead to problems including suicidal thoughts or behavior, social withdrawal, relationship difficulties, school or work problems, and substance abuse.

Seasonal mood variations are related mostly to daylight, not temperature. For this reason, SAD is common even in places with mild winters such as the Pacific Northwest. Long periods of overcast weather can also exacerbate SAD. Warning signs of SAD usually appear in late fall and end in the spring.

One way to prevent Seasonal Affective Disorder is to live in a warm, southern, climate. But what about those of us who live in the north? Following these suggestions can help alleviate some of the symptoms of SAD:

1. Go outside and walk briskly for thirty minutes during your lunch break, when sunlight is at its peak.

2. If you can’t exercise outdoors, try exercising next to a window.

3. Get more natural sunlight by doing outdoor chores (raking the leaves, shoveling the snow).

4. Keep your windows and blinds open in the home and office.

5. Sit near a window, preferably in sunlight, whenever possible.

6. Join a support group with other SAD sufferers. Join a walking or activity group!

7. Try phototherapy. You can replace the light bulbs in your home with brighter full (broad) spectrum light bulbs. While more expensive then regular light bulbs, these provide light more similar to natural sunlight.

8. Maintain your schedule. Try to keep a regular pattern of sleep. It may be helpful to have a bedside light on timer to turn on half an hour before you wake to help you wake at a regular time even when it is dark outside.

9. Keep things in perspective. Remember that spring is only about 6 months away and that these sad feelings are only temporary and will go away.

10. If you can, go south for vacation!

If none of these strategies improve your depressive symptoms, consider consulting your primary care physician or mental health professional. SAD is a form of depression and can be readily treated with medications or psychotherapy when other self-help methods aren't effective.

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