Dr. Maria D. Reyes
Are you feeling blue since the time changed this fall? You may have a common problem known as Seasonal Affective Disorder. It’s a problem you can find help with when you visit a Christian counselor.
What Is Seasonal Affective Disorder?Seasonal affective disorder (SAD) affects millions of Americans each year. It’s a form of depression triggered by less daylight that occurs in the autumn and winter months. Most people with SAD have mild to moderate symptoms. However, if SAD is left untreated, it can be as dangerous as serious depression.
It is wise to know the facts about Seasonal Affective Disorder so you can get help when you need it. There is no shame in reaching out for help if you think you may have SAD.
Symptoms of SAD
The symptoms of SAD are similar to symptoms of depression. The difference is that these symptoms primarily occur during the fall and winter months and tend to disappear in the spring and summer months. If you notice a pattern developing with these symptoms from year to year when the days get shorter, you may have SAD.
Look for these symptoms:
- Bouts of tearfulness
- Irritation or uncharacteristically short temper
- Lack of concentration
- Loss of energy even with normal daily activities
- Loss of pleasure or interest in activities you once enjoyed
- Memory problems
- Negative impact on work
- No longer attending normal social engagements
- Restlessness or pacing
- Significant increase or decrease in appetite
- Sleeping too much or experiencing insomnia
- Slow movements or slowed, quiet speech
- Dry skin, brittle nails, and/or hair loss
- Feelings of inappropriate or excessive guilt
- Feelings of worthlessness
- Recurring thoughts about death, dying, and suicide
If you have at least three of these symptoms for more than two weeks in a row during the winter months, a therapist may diagnose you with Seasonal Affective Disorder. Remember, many people only have mild symptoms, but can still benefit from a treatment plan. By seeking treatment, you can cope better and feel more confident even when the days are short.
What You Can Do to Alleviate SAD
There are several things you can do to alleviate SAD on your own. Try these tips to see if you start feeling better. If these tips don’t make a big enough difference, it may help to speak to a counselor.
Increase Light Exposure
The lack of sufficient light is the number one cause of SAD. So, you need to be creative about increasing your light exposure in winter. About 15 minutes of light exposure per day is enough to alleviate your symptoms.
On a sunny day, get outside in the fresh air. Take a short walk and turn your face up toward the sun. If the weather is cold, wear winter gear and bundle up. A short period outside in the sun will work wonders for your mental health. Remember to wear sunscreen to protect your skin.
But what if the sun is hiding, as it does many days in the winter? That’s when you can benefit from bright, artificial light that substitutes for the sun. You may need to use this frequently if you have many wet or cloudy days where you live.
You can buy an inexpensive lamp with a bulb that’s bright enough to make an impact. Look for lamps that are meant to treat Seasonal Affective Disorder. There are lamps to fit every budget. Use your lamp for 15 to 30 minutes every day while you are doing another task like house chores or checking email. Don’t stare directly at the light, and don’t leave the light unattended. With regular use, you will see a positive difference in your mood.
Eat HealthyMany people eat comfort foods during the winter. But these foods can lower your immune system response and depress your mood. Foods that are high in fat, sugar, salt, and carbohydrates should not be the basis of your diet. They should only be treats you enjoy once in a while, especially if you are dealing with SAD.
To control SAD symptoms, eat a healthy, balanced diet of lean protein, whole grains, and plenty of fruits and vegetables. Nuts are a great source of trace minerals that can boost your mood. Berries are high in antioxidants that can help you feel healthier.
Talk with your doctor or nutritionist about the best eating plan when dealing with SAD. Simple tweaks to your diet can make a big difference in how you cope during the winter months.
You’ve probably already heard that regular exercise is good for your body. But did you know it’s also good for your mental well-being? People with mild to moderate depression can significantly improve their outlook with as little as 30 minutes of brisk walking per day.
Exercise increases feel-good endorphins, which can offset the chemical reactions in your brain that lead to depression. Make sure that you are in good enough physical shape to start a new exercise program. A quick checkup with your doctor can clear you if you have any questions.
Winter is when people tend to isolate themselves, but this can make Seasonal Affective Disorder worse. To fight SAD, it’s important to prioritize your social interactions with others, whether in-person or online. Social connections are a buffer against worsening SAD symptoms.
We know that socialization is challenging during a pandemic. But since it will benefit you to reach out to others, it’s worth your while to find creative ways to connect. Having a daily Facetime or Zoom call with loved ones will give you something to anticipate and will help you feel less lonely. You will need to be intentional about scheduling these virtual visits with others as part of your mental health care plan.
Get Quality Rest
Many people who are depressed do not get quality rest. They may deal with insomnia, or they may sleep too much during the day, which interferes with nighttime rest. Without quality rest, your SAD symptoms could become more significant.
It’s wise to have a routine that puts your brain to rest. First, make sure your bedroom is on the cool side, which helps your body enter rest mode. Avoid screen use, whether from your phone or television, for an hour before bed. The light emitted from these devices can interfere with falling asleep. Also, avoid caffeine for at least two hours before bedtime, and don’t lay down with a full stomach of food. A brief walk after supper can help your body slow down before bed.
One practice that can make a big difference is keeping a journal and writing in it before bed. You can keep a gratitude journal, or simply dump a few frustrations and anxieties on paper. By clearing your mind before you sleep, you’ll have a better chance at staying asleep through the night. Quality rest can lessen your SAD symptoms.
Additional Treatment for Seasonal Affective Disorder
Even when you practice these good habits, you may still not be able to shake SAD on your own. That’s when it’s time to consult with a Christian counselor, who can help you get a handle on your symptoms.
Other extenuating circumstances may be contributing to your seasonal symptoms. Perhaps relationship issues, unprocessed losses, or other stressors are taking a toll on your mental well-being. A caring Christian counselor can help you process these problems to help you feel better.
After reading this, do you think you may have Seasonal Affective Disorder? There is no shame in reaching out for help. Many people suffer from this seasonal problem yet could get help for it with simple treatments. Give us a call today to set up an initial consultation. We will help you overcome Seasonal Affective Disorder, so you feel better this winter.
“Down”, Courtesy of Arif Riyanto, Unsplash.com, CC0 License; “Woman With Mask”, Courtesy of Engin Akyurt, Unsplash.com, CC0 License; “Hiding”, Courtesy of Toa Heftiba, Unsplash.com, CC0 License; “Downcast”, Courtesy of Pablo Varela, Unsplash.com, CC0 License
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