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Recognizing and Preventing Seasonal Affective Disorder

Written by Miranda Owen 

Miranda Owen is one of NAMI Wake’s work study students, helping us as a social media technician and blog contributor. This month, we’ll be focusing our content on SAD.

Recognizing the Symptoms of SAD

Many people experience changes as winter approaches, including craving comfort foods, sleeping more, putting on weight, and experiencing sadness or changing moods. If you are unsure whether you are experiencing seasonal depression, you should try making an appointment with your physician or therapist. Symptoms of Seasonal Affective Disorder can vary in individuals but typically mimic classic symptoms of depression. Common symptoms include:

  • Lack of sleep
  • Loss of energy 
  • Agitation and irritability
  • Loss of interest in activities 
  • Difficulty concentrating
  • Feelings of hopelessness 

Preventing and Managing Symptoms

Many individuals who experience S.A.D. have relieved or managed their symptoms through general healthy behaviors. Research shows that depression and seasonal depression symptoms can be alleviated through healthy eating, exercise, and time outside. Improving your diet may improve your mood. Try eating more lean proteins, omega-3 fatty acids, and food containing vitamin D including dairy, mushrooms, and egg yolks. Experts also recommend reducing sugar and carbohydrate intake, as it can contribute to spikes and crashes in your mood. Exercising 2-3 times per week can also help boost your mood. 

Light therapy can be beneficial to people suffering from the winter blues. Light therapy is a daily period of exposure to a light box that simulates sunlight. You can find light therapy light boxes online on Amazon. Light boxes typically average around $30-$50. Experts recommend finding a light box with at least 10,000 lux for your treatment. Another type of light therapy is a “dawn simulator” which gradually increases the amount of light in the morning to wake you up similarly to the rising sun. Some people find success trying these methods. 

The COVID-19 pandemic has made it more difficult to go on a vacation or plan outdoor activities, but there are plenty of enjoyable activities to try this winter that won’t compromise your health. Going on a hike or other outdoor adventure, making snowmen or snow angels in the winter, watching holiday movies, baking, doing a yoga or dance class from YouTube, and other activities can keep you busy and healthy throughout the winter season. 

Lastly, professional mental health care including medication or behavioral therapy can help people struggling with S.A.D. Please remember that anyone who experiences depression symptoms for the first time or experiences worsening depression symptoms should consult a physician or other mental health professional. You can find mental health resources on our website. Remember, you are not alone. Lean on your support systems, spend some time outside, and don’t be afraid to reach out for help when you need it. We can get through this winter together. 

Sources: I, II, III, IV

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