Dealing with Seasonal Affective Disorder: Coping Strategies

Can you smell the pumpkin lattés in the air? For so many people, especially in New England, fall is the most wonderful time of year.

I get it! It’s beautiful. Watching all the leaves change to crimson and gold and drift to the ground, feeling the first hint of chill in the air, fresh apples from the farm stand, high-school football games, getting your cute sweaters back out of the storage bin; it really is a fabulous couple of weeks… until the snow starts to fly again. I just find it depressing.

What is Seasonal Affective Disorder?

Like nearly 10% of the overall population, I have Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD.) I actually dislike the acronym, because I feel like it makes the whole thing seem insignificant. This isn’t “sad” like when someone finishes the pint of ice cream you bought for yourself. This “SAD” is a pervasive depression, excessive sleepiness, and/or increased appetite that sets in when the light starts to fade in the autumn. SAD isn’t a diagnosis in itself, it’s a subtype of Major Depressive Disorder; the difference between “depression” and “SAD” is that SAD generally recurs and subsides annually. For me, it usually peaks at about Christmastime, just when you’re supposed to be at your absolute cheeriest, and goes away at about the time we turn the clocks forward in the spring.

I’m not a doctor, nor do I play one on TV.

Before you read any further, please understand that I’m not a mental health professional. If you feel like you might have Seasonal Affective Disorder, or any other kind of depression, please contact a licensed therapist to help you with a formal diagnosis and treatment options. Here is a link to Psychology Today’s search bar, so you can find a local therapist. Even the most effective solutions to SAD need to be coupled with therapy. Your therapist can also talk with you about whether or not it makes sense to do a short-term antidepressant therapy. This article, however, focuses on a few non-pharmacological options.

So… What are my options?

Check your Vitamin D level

My doctor told me that it’s virtually impossible for people who live north of Florida to get enough Vitamin D in the fall/winter months without taking a supplement. There’s just not enough natural sunlight. Parker, Brotchie, and Graham (2017) completed an empirical study that showed a correlation between Vitamin-D deficiency and depression.  They also state that taking a supplement helped to alleviate the problem. I had a blood test done which measured my Vitamin D levels and, indeed, it was pretty far below normal. I started taking a supplement about 3 weeks ago, so I can’t provide any feedback yet on whether or not it helps me, but I’m throwing it out there, because it may help you. Have a conversation with your doctor. If he/she recommends it, have a blood test to determine your Vitamin D levels. If you are deficient, the recommendation is 1000 IU daily to bring you up to the right level and then maintain it (Parker, Brotchie, & Graham 2017). You can find Vitamin D-3 at your pharmacy, or if you prefer, you can click the image below to order it on Amazon:

 

Get a Happy Light!

A literature review study in the Journal of Affective Disorders discussed the link between lack of light and depression. In their findings, the researchers determined that Bright Light Therapy is another tool to put in your back pocket. This is pretty straight forward. You’re not getting enough sunlight, so you’re going to have fake it. I purchased a full-spectrum therapy light and use it daily. I make a cup of coffee and read in front of the light (about 12″ away from my face) for about a half hour. The one I bought (featured below) has a timer on it and will shut off automatically after 30 mins.  I find this to be extremely energizing and can definitely see a difference in the way I feel on the days I use it and the days I don’t.

This is an Aura Day Light Therapy Lamp, 10,000 Lux of Bright Light White with Adjustable Lux Dial And Timer- 100% UV Free{2 Year Warranty Includes Bulb and Lamp}

Try to make just one or two lifestyle changes

Finally, I found a terrific list of lifestyle changes in a 2017 article by Laura G. Leahy. These are all great suggestions that could really make a difference.

Develop sleep hygiene habits:
* Adapt regular sleep and wake times
* Minimize blue light from television and electronic devices within 2 hours of sleep
* Maintain the bedroom at a comfortable temperature
* Avoid caffeine and alcohol, which disrupt restorative sleep
* Wake using a light to simulate dawn, as opposed to an alarm
Incorporate daily walks or outdoor activity, even on cloudy days
Incorporate aerobic exercise, approximately 30 minutes per day
Maintain a healthy diet without succumbing to increased carbohydrate cravings
Rearrange the indoor environment to maximize natural light from windows
Increase indoor lighting, especially full-spectrum light
Minimize stress through relaxation and meditation exercises
Make an effort to maintain social connections

You’ve got this!

One of the most important things I can tell you, though, is that you will feel better eventually. Don’t let yourself spiral down into the pit of despair… Know that there really is a “light” at the end of this tunnel!

*I am a member of Amazon Associates. That means that I will receive a small comission from sales of products purchased through the links on this page. I have tried and would recommend every item I post.
References
Leahy, L. G. (2017). Overcoming seasonal affective disorder. Journal of Psychosocial Nursing & Mental Health Services, 55(11), 10-14. doi:http://dx.doi.org.ezproxy.snhu.edu/10.3928/02793695-20171016-03

Menculini, G., Verdolini, N., Murru, A., Pacchiarotti, I., Volpe, U., Cervino, A., & … Tortorella, A. (2018). Review article: Depressive mood and circadian rhythms disturbances as outcomes of seasonal affective disorder treatment: A systematic review. Journal Of Affective Disorders241608-626. doi:10.1016/j.jad.2018.08.071

Parker, G. B., Brotchie, H., & Graham, R. K. (2017). Vitamin D and depression. Journal Of Affective Disorders, 20856-61. doi:10.1016/j.jad.2016.08.082

 

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s