Seasonal affective disorder is a depression associated with seasonal changes. If you have SAD, its symptoms start in the late fall and continue till early winter soaking up your energy and making you feel moody. It goes away during the spring and summer. SAD can occur in summer but are less common than the winter episodes of SAD. It affects your mood, appetite, sleep and energy levels with no interest in any activities you love. SAD in women is four times more prevalent than in men. It estimated that the starting age for SAD is between 18 to 30 years old. SAD affects around 1% to 2% of the population, especially women and youth. Seasonal affective disorder may affect anyone, but it is most common among people living far north or south of the equator which means you will experience less sunlight in winter and longer days in summer. The cause of SAD is unknown yet, but it is because of the level of melatonin in the body, a hormone secreted by the pineal gland that regulates the cycle of sleep-wake. Darkness increases melatonin production, preparing the body to sleep. It increases as the winter days get shorter and colder, people felt sleepier and lethargic.
Following are the different ways to handle seasonal disorder during fall:
1. Get natural sunlight
One of the main SAD symptoms is because of the lack of light exposure and goes away on its own when light increases. Try to step outside during the hours of daylight and expose yourself to the sun without wearing a hat or sunglasses. Patients diagnosed with SAD have seen better results by walking outdoors daily for an hour. Do not look at the sun directly. Sunlight can help boost serotonin levels and improve your mood during the fall. Keep your blinds or windows open so you can get as much natural light as you can when you are indoors. Staying in a brighter environment as much as possible can help in reducing seasonal depression.
2. Use of Light therapy boxes
A light therapy box reflects sunlight that can help in reducing the symptoms of seasonal affective disorder. Several studies have shown light therapy (phototherapy) is helpful in the treatment of seasonal disorder and you can use the light boxes available in the market. To make this therapy effective, make sure that the light box produces at least 10,000 lux which is 100 times stronger than a normal light bulb. A desk lamp won’t help which has a yellow light, typically it needs a cool white or blue fluorescent light. Dedicated light therapy boxes for SAD treatment filter out UVs making them safe to use. Therefore, check that the light box is being specifically designed to treat SAD, depression and other mood disorder. With the help of these following steps you can use the light therapy:
- Get a light therapy box and set it up in any convenient place at your home or at work.
- Sit in front of it between 30 to 90 minutes each day. This will help in stimulating the circadian rhythms of your body and inhibit the release of melatonin.
- It’s better to light therapy as early in the morning as possible.
- Try sitting in such a way that you get a proper amount of light that falls into your eyes. It needs to get placed at eye level or higher but 2 feet away from you.
- Repeat this throughout the seasonal disorder.
3. Having Vitamin D in your food
One of the most popular methods to handle and treat SAD is Vitamin D, which most people get naturally from sunlight and from their diet. Vitamin D can help to manage debilitating symptoms for mental health such as changes in sleep patterns, increased sadness, and depression. People with SAD eat more foods rich in carbohydrates, sweets and starchy foods. Therefore, make sure you get enough Vitamin D in the fall and winter. During this seasonal lows periods, they also overeat so it’s crucial that they look after what they eat and maintain a proper diet to feel more energetic. Vitamin D is insufficient for our developed bodies as we have less sunlight between fall and winter. Vitamin D can aid in preventing and treating depression for season disorder. You can find vitamin D in a variety of your food which you can add in your daily meals. Having dietary supplements, eggs, mushrooms etc are few foods which can help you in getting Vitamin D. Also, fruits and vegetables help in improving your health and put you in a better mood. A study in 2014, found that people who take supplements with vitamin D saw a significant improvement in depression.
4. Staying physically active
Fatigue and lethargy are one of the few symptoms of SAD, therefore by staying physically active can increase strength and improve mood. Exercises increase your metabolism to enhance your energy levels. Regular exercises are a powerful way to combat seasonal depression, particularly when you can practice outdoors in natural daylight. Outdoor exercises are most effective and can help to relieve seasonal affective disorder. In case it isn’t possible to do an outdoor exercise you can probably choose a treadmill or an elliptical machine at a gym. Exercising near a window where you can get natural sunlight and also lose weight. Also, doing light exercise such as a daily walk can enhance your mood and well being. Other activities that can help in treating SAD are stretching, yoga, swimming, dancing, running and strength training. You can do exercises 10 minutes a day to improve seasonal disorder.
5. Talk therapy
To ease the sense of isolation, talk therapy works on managing stress level, revising the negative feelings and thoughts (depression) with positive thoughts. A psychotherapist can help you identify behaviours that affect depression. They learn different ways to cope with the symptoms and set up relaxation techniques that can help you restore it with positive energy.
6. Use of Dawn simulators
Dawn simulators improve cognition, sleep inertia, performance and mood in people suffering from a seasonal affective disorder. Exposure of high-intensity light to a person causes an immediate but a temporary cessation in melatonin production. Dawn simulators also known as a wake-up light are devices like the alarm clock, but instead of waking you up with a loud sound or beeping, they produce light that gradually increases like the sun. It is easier to use regularly than the light box and is subjectively more natural. Using dawn simulators is to change the person’s melatonin production and sleep pattern to a suitable time to treat circadian rhythm disorders and improve the sleep of people working in night/day shift to loosen the effect of jet lag. The light reaches to the retina through your translucent eyelids triggering your body to wake up naturally. The simulator reduces the light intensity approximately 45 minutes before bedtime and increasing the light intensity 30 minutes before waking up. This helps in the treatment of increased sleep duration and sleep latency. Seasonal affective disorder causes a lot of sleep problems which is showing the first sign of depression. People with SAD are more likely to be like night owls and experience over 9 hours of sleep or less than 6 hours of sleep. There are different models of dawn simulators available but it is better to use the full-spectrum light, which is closest to natural sunlight.
When the symptoms of SAD are severe, many people suffering from seasonal affective disorder got relieved from antidepressant therapy. If light therapy or talk therapy doesn’t boost your mood, then antidepressant may help you overcome SAD. Antidepressant medications help to control the neurotransmitters in the brain and control the balance of serotonin that affects the mood and energy. This helps to relieve symptoms such as depression, anxiety and seasonal disorder.
8. Essential oils for SAD
To deal effectively with seasonal affective disorder, essential oils help with boosting and energizing together to improve the emotional system and to get proper sleep. Essential oils affect the limbic system is in the brain region that controls our mood and the circadian rhythm of the body. Citrus essential oils have a stimulating and uplifting effect on the emotions and an enthusiastic action on the body, while the floral oils work on energies to help to combat the feeling of sadness, depression or even guilt that seasonal disorder can bring on. Also, Bergamot and Lemon oils are effective for mood enhancement. You can use the essential oil in the following way-
- You can vaporize Essential oils, add a few drops to your bath at night to help you relax
- You can mix a few drops of essential oils with a carrier oil for a massage.
- Make sure you use the bergamot essential oil in a massage oil in case you intend to use the sunbed or lightbox.
The benefit of essential oil is that it shows positive effects on the emotional system that helps in seasonal disorder and re-energizes with any combination of conventional treatments.