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Seasonal Affective Disorder: 6 Symptoms and 6 Ways to Treat It

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Seasonal affective disorder is a form of depression better known as wintertime depression or the wintertime blues. Symptoms commonly occur beginning in the autumn months and last throughout winter. The occurrence of depression during fall and winter months is attributed to less sunlight this time of year, which is believed to cause an imbalance in the chemical melatonin that influences sleep and mood patterns in the brain.

Seasonal affective disorder usually gets better in the spring and summer when days are longer, with more sunlight exposure. Those who experience seasonal affective disorder experience symptoms similar to depression. 

What are symptoms of seasonal affective disorder?

Symptoms can vary from mild to severe and can include:

  1. Increased sleep, with daytime fatigue and decreased energy
  2. Increased appetite, carbohydrate cravings
  3. Weight gain
  4. Loss of interest in normal activities
  5. Decreased motivation
  6. Irritability

The holiday season should be a time of joy and celebration, but for many it is not. Thanksgiving, Christmas and New Year’s all occur in the fall and winter months affected by seasonal affective disorder. Facing the holidays can already be particularly difficult and stressful for many. Factoring in seasonal depression can only add to the challenge. Although symptoms do typically resolve on their own with the change of season, symptoms can improve quicker through various types of treatment.

What are the treatments for seasonal affective disorder? 

According to The National Institute of Mental Health, treatments include:

  1. Light therapy: Aim to get as much natural daylight as possible, for example short walks on bright, sunny days or eating lunch outside. Daily exposure to bright, artificial light (a light box) first thing in the morning, to mimic natural light found outside (under your provider’s supervision). Sit closer to windows with bright light both at home and at work.
  2. Antidepressant medications
  3. Counseling
  4. Exercise
  5. Healthy eating habits
  6. Sleep hygiene: Make sure your bedroom is dark, quiet and relaxing and the temperature is comfortable. Turn off electronic devices and keep your cell phone away from your bed so you are not distracted by it.

These treatments may be used alone or in combination.

For those who are depressed and have been thinking about harming themselves or suicide, it is important to get help right away.

  • Call 911 for emergency services.
  • Go to the nearest hospital emergency room.
  • Call the toll-free, 24-hour hotline of the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-TALK

Seek treatment and speak with your healthcare provider today if you feel you are affected by seasonal affective disorder. Together you can decide on the best treatment options so that you can have a joyful, and happy holiday season!

The National Alliance on Mental Illness has additional information on seasonal depression that could be helpful to you.

See a licensed therapist virtually from the comfort of your own home.

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