Five Steps To Coping With Seasonal Affective Disorder

Seasonal depression, properly known as Seasonal Affective Disorder or SAD, generally affects individuals throughout the winter months. Although there is no conclusive evidence, experts believe that seasonal depression is more likely to occur in those who are exposed to a limited amount of sunlight. The "winter blues" may be successfully treated through professional intervention, as well as dietary and lifestyle changes. Before you attempt to treat your anxiety and depression, it's important to see a professional depression counselor for a proper diagnosis.

Recognize the Symptoms, Then Take Action

If you're experiencing the following symptoms, it's important to see a professional counselor trained in diagnosing and treating SAD:

  • Feelings of deep sadness or anxiety that begin at the onset of winter and typically last until early spring.

  • Change in eating habits during wintertime, such as binge eating or a loss of appetite.

  • Irregular sleep patterns during the winter months: This may include insomnia or difficulty staying asleep, or sleeping significantly more than usual during the winter months.

  • Loss of interest in friends or social activities, occurring only during the winter.

If any of the above symptoms apply to you, here are five steps you can take to help you cope:

1. Make an Appointment with a Licensed Counselor

Find a therapist or counselor with specialized training in treating seasonal depression. Your general practitioner may know of a professional that can help. Before doing so, it's advisable to receive a thorough physical examination to rule out any medical cause for your depression and anxiety.

A counselor may help in a number of ways. He or she may implement various therapy techniques for you to try, and work with your family doctor as well. You may be prescribed antidepressants in addition to therapy.

Phototherapy, or light therapy as it's sometimes called, may be a beneficial treatment. This technique is performed by placing the subject at a short distance from a fluorescent lighting device. Although considered to be safe for many individuals, if you have light sensitivity or certain eye conditions, this treatment may not be advisable.

As an alternate treatment plan, your counselor may recommend individual therapy, family therapy or group therapy. In many cases, group therapy, with others experiencing similar symptoms of seasonal depression, may work best. This may offer you insight and support from others facing the same situation.

2. Let the Sunshine In

Because many experts believe a lack of sunlight is a contributing factor of Seasonal Affective Disorder, it may be helpful to increase your daily intake of sunshine. Do so by leaving your blinds or curtains open enough to allow sunlight to enter your bedroom during the morning and throughout the day. If you live in an area that is primarily cloudy during the winter months, you can simulate the affects of sunlight with a device known as a dawn simulator. More than your typical alarm clock, this device wakes you in the morning by gradually introducing full-spectrum lighting into the room.

3. Get Moving

Studies show that regular exercise may prevent depression, therefore it might help you reduce the symptoms of SAD. With your doctor's approval, construct a routine exercise plan that fits your lifestyle. It may be as simple as taking daily walks or bicycling twice a week.

4. Choose Healthy Meals and Snacks

Ditch the sweets and choose fresh fruits and veggies, or peanut butter and crackers instead. Low-fat yogurt can offer a boost, while introducing probiotics (the "good" bacteria) into your body. Boosting your immune system may help you fight the fatigue that accompanies seasonal depression. Adhere to a healthy diet, especially during the winter months when your depression sets in.

5. Stick to a Routine Sleep Schedule

Lack of sleep may worsen your seasonal depression, so be sure you are well-rested. Get to bed at the same time each night. To help you sleep better, avoid caffeine several hours prior to bedtime. Instead, enjoy a cup of warm milk or calming chamomile tea.

Instead of watching stimulating television before bedtime, take a relaxing bath and read a good book to help you feel sleepy. Keep your bedroom at a comfortable temperature, and use a humidifier to increase room humidity. This may help you avoid a dry and stuffy nose that interrupts your sleep. Just as importantly, don't exercise prior to bedtime, as this may also make it difficult to sleep.

In conclusion, don't let those winter doldrums affect your quality of life. With proper care and professional intervention, you can control the symptoms of SAD and put yourself on the path to recovery.