Fed up with gloomy skies and the humdrum of winter? For some folks who live in colder, cloudier climates, the short, dark days of winter cause a depression and malaise known as seasonal affective disorder (SAD).
The physiological mechanism initiating SAD is unknown, but researchers link a lack of sunshine to altered brain chemistry and depression. In addition to depression, people with seasonal affective disorder tend to sleep more, crave carbohydrates, have less energy and be less productive at work. Some are so depressed they can hardly function.
There are very effective treatments available for people with SAD. Alone or in combination with psychotherapy and anti-depressant medication, SAD patients often are treated with light therapy, which involves sitting in front of a special light box each day.
Some folks’ symptoms aren’t severe enough to warrant medical intervention. Others, however, require additional treatment. But regardless of your position on the spectrum, you can try the following tips to treat seasonal affective disorder:
• Get outside for 15 to 20 minutes daily at noontime. Except on very cloudy days, there is usually enough light available to produce a mood lift, and reflection from snow makes it even brighter.
• Move your desk or chair near a window. Try to avoid windowless environments.
• Try a change in your diet. Eat lots of carbohydrates – complex ones such as pasta, potatoes and rice as main courses, and low-fat, sweet carbohydrates such as sweet breakfast cereal for snacks.
• Find a buddy, and exercise. Exercise will help reduce seasonal weight gain and make you feel more lively. But people with SAD often lack the motivation to move and exercise. A friend can offer the encouragement they need, and once they start exercising they feel better. Exercising outdoors in the sunshine may produce additional benefits.
• Accept and plan for blue periods. Learn new coping techniques, conserve energy, get help with chores and enlist friends and family members for support.
Think a warm weekend getaway might help? A trip to a Southern climate might help you temporarily, but even people who live year-round in Southern states can suffer from seasonal affective disorder because the days are still shorter in the winter.