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Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD) Tips

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iStock_000015722564XSmallWith Daylight Saving starting this weekend, this time of year often brings depressive symptoms that are worsened by the shorter days, and cold weather. Commonly referred to as Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD), the DSM5 describes this syndrome as Major Depressive Episodes that occur in a seasonal pattern that are characterized by prominent energy changes, increased sleep, overeating, weight gain and carbohydrate cravings. For those who struggle with these symptoms in the winter, getting ahead of its impact can pay off. Here are a few “SAD” tips I have found useful:

Get into the Light

SAD is about light deficit, and is not about cold weather necessarily, though the experience of cold is something many people dread. Getting as much light as possible is the number one priority in combatting SAD. Ideally, this light is in the form of natural sunlight, and outside if at all possible. Don’t be dissuaded by clouds or rain either. A clear umbrella is a good thing to have handy as it lets in maximal natural light on a rainy day.

When you are inside, open the blinds and let in as much natural light as possible. As much as possible, seek out well lit, south facing rooms. Since the sun is lower in the sky in the winter and never fully overhead as in the summer, rooms with south facing windows enjoy more sunlight in winter months.

Get Outside, Move and See Green

Ideally, time outside will also involve moving your body and getting your heart pumping to reap the additional benefits of aerobic exercise. Aerobic exercise is well known for its mood elevating effects, even if it is a brisk walk.

Time outside will be even better if there is greenery around. Studies have shown that looking at the color green can help boost creative performance (http://psp.sagepub.com/content/38/6/784).

Start your day Enlightened

Look to start your day with sunlight or artificial light box exposure. If you can’t get exposed to actual sunlight, a light box can be a convenient alternative, as it mimics natural sunlight. They are available in a variety of sizes, strengths, and portabilities – the visor is particularity convenient as one can move around while engaging in the 20-30 minute light treatment. Exposing yourself to light helps wake you up, gives your mood a boost early in the day, and keeps your circadian rhythm in check.  For people with SAD, mornings can be a difficult time of the day, so combatting depressed feelings with light and movement in the mornings is particularly helpful.

Boost your Mood with Sleep and Nutrition

Finally taking care of yourself physically is a mood enhancer. Make sure you get enough sleep (7.5-9 hours a night), and monitor your carb and alcohol intake. Fatigue, blood sugar spikes and troughs, and alcohol metabolizing can exacerbate depression symptoms. Also consider supplementing with Vitamin D, in pill or liquid form. Physicians recommend between 600 and 1000 units daily.

 

Alicia H. Clark, PsyD

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