Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD) is real and is more than just a case of the post-holiday or wintertime blues. In fact, SAD is a very common form of depression that affects more than 3 million people in the United States. Most people with this disorder experience the symptoms in the late fall and into the winter. These symptoms include feeling depressed most of the day, a loss of interest in activities, low energy, trouble sleeping, changes in weight or appetite, difficulty focusing, feeling agitated and/or feeling hopeless. Sometimes SAD symptoms start out mild and increase in intensity as the season progresses.
The causes of SAD are still being discovered but are thought to include changes in your biological clock due to the reduced amount of sunlight, a drop in your serotonin (brain chemical that affects mood) during the shorter days, and a change in your melatonin levels which can disrupt your mood and sleep. SAD is more common in females, in people ages 18-35, and in people with a family history of depression. It is also more common in people who live farther north or south of the equator, due to the decreased sunlight and colder weather of the winter, which typically means less outdoor activity. Therefore, SAD is much more likely in residents of Alaska than it is in residents of Florida.
It is normal for people to feel a post-holiday letdown or case of the blues, and it is normal for most people to feel down some days, particularly during this lengthy time of the pandemic. But if you feel down for several days at a time and you lack the motivation to do things that you normally enjoy, it may be time to schedule an appointment with your doctor. There are also things that you can do at home to reduce the impact of SAD. One of the most recommended treatments is light therapy. For this treatment, a person sits in front of a very bright light device every morning for about 30 minutes. These light devices help to compensate for the lack of natural sunlight and also filter out UV light. Although these can be purchased online, persons with SAD should consult with their doctor if they are taking medications, as some medications cause increased sensitivity to the light. People experiencing SAD should keep their house well-lit in general and try to sit near a bright window when possible. It is also important to eat a well-balanced diet and to exercise regularly. Although you may not feel like going out in the cold weather of winter, walking outside can be very beneficial to your physical and mental health, and help to combat “cabin fever.” Many people in European countries handle winter weather by bundling up and going out and enjoying themselves. The number of outdoor markets at Christmas and throughout the year are just one example of this. Relaxation techniques, such as yoga, listening to music, reading inspirational stories of faith and hope, or meditation can also be helpful.
Staying connected with others is important if you are experiencing SAD. This can best be done in person, but phone and e-mail will do as a substitute if in-person gathering is not feasible. It is important to have goals to help you stay motivated and lessen the effects of SAD. Winter is a good time for crafts, puzzles, games (including online), and projects around the home. And lastly, laughter really is good medicine. Laughter activates many areas of the brain and helps to produce positive emotions, enhancing your overall well-being. So, put some comedy into your life this winter with your favorite or a new sitcom, or a book of jokes or funny stories from your local library and let the laughter ring!
If you or someone you care about needs additional support to help cope with loss this holiday season, The Option Group is here to help. Please contact our professional care management team for assistance.
About The Option Group: Our compassionate team of Geriatric/Aging LifeCare Managers (GCM) serves family caregivers, medical professionals, and professional family advisors in Maryland and South/Central Pennsylvania. Caring for an individual who needs assistance due to aging, dementia, disability or serious illness can be challenging. Don’t go it alone. The Option Group has over 75 years of experience navigating the healthcare maze and has access to hundreds of resources to assist you. Spend quality time with your loved one, not researching their care options. You can count on The Option Group to provide clear choices that lead to better care. For more information, please visit www.theoptiongroup.net or call 410-667-0266 (MD) or 717-287-9900 (PA).