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Seasonal affective disorder: therapists weigh how to deal with it



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Seasonal depression or ED is common in the fall and winter months.


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As the winter approaches the days get shorter and the weather gets colder, nearly 10 million people in the US will experience seasonal affective disorder (SAD) or seasonal depression. SAD is very similar to depression (think of lack of energy, a bad mood and loss of interest or motivation) because it is a form of depression . It is not the same as clinical depression, but it is still a mood disorder that requires professional attention if it affects your life.

Even if you have no history of depression SAD can still affect you (although it is more common in people with a history). Although it is not a permanent condition – it often starts in the fall and disappears in the spring – there are several things you can do to prevent it or to deal with it.

Even if you do not experience SAD personally, learning from it can help you support family, friends or colleagues who can experience it. Keep reading to find out more about SAD, which is at risk, and for tips from mental health professionals on how to deal with it.

What is SAD and who is at risk of getting it?

"Seasonal affective disorder (also known as seasonal depression) is a type of depression that affects people in the winter months. Symptoms are most common from November to April and can range from mild to severe," said Malin McKinley, LCSW, a psychotherapist who specializes in anxiety and depression, based in Agoura Hills, California. Although anyone can experience SAD, seasonal depression in the US usually has more impact on people in the Pacific Northwest, Alaska, the Northeast or other places with shorter, darker days and colder weather in the winter.

What are the symptoms?

  • Depressive mood
  • Negative thoughts
  • Fatigue
  • Hypersomnia (too much sleep)
  • Increased carbohydrate / weight gain intake
  • Social withdrawal / hibernation

If you have a family history of depression, depression or bipolar diagnosis or being a woman, then your risk of developing SAD is higher, according to the Mayo Clinic.

"Although the causes of SAD are unknown, the condition has been linked to biochemical imbalances in the brain due to a decrease in both daylight and sunlight during the winter months," McKinley said, referring to fewer hours of daylight and cloudy skies that instantly block sunlight.

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What can you do to prevent SAD?

If you have a depression, bipolar disorder in the past or suspect you are susceptible to it, it is useful to maintain a healthy and active lifestyle. Science has found exercise especially useful to relieve the symptoms of depression.

"Changing certain behaviors that aggravate depression or SAD reduces the chance of developing SAD / depression. For example, staying active despite lack of motivation, exercising, and eating healthily even if you are not hungry It is also important to request support, "said Amy Cirbus, a New York-based Talkspace therapist.

"Lifestyle changes, such as exercising 30 minutes a day, going outside to get natural daylight / sunlight, getting enough sleep, avoiding healthy eating, drugs and alcohol, shortening screen time, meditating and making contact with loved ones are all great ways to increase emotional well-being and reduce symptoms, "McKinley said.

Light therapy is another promising intervention because increasing exposure to light (even if from an artificial source) can help alleviate or prevent symptoms, according to the Mayo Clinic. Exposure to light affects the body's ability to produce certain hormones and helps regulate circadian rhythm – both are important for overall health, sleep and mood regulation.

Read more: Online versus personal therapy: What you need to know

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How to deal with SAD

If you think you are experiencing SAD and it affects your ability to get through your day, work and maintain relationships, you should consult a doctor. Participating regularly in talk therapy with a recognized therapist can also be very useful. In addition to seeking professional help from a doctor, psychiatrist or other mental health professional, consider the following tips.

Create and follow a routine

"With SAD there is a tendency to want to stay at home and isolate, because the lack of sunlight can make a person less motivated to get out. This can cause other strong feelings that just contributing to the reason for not wanting to leave, leaving a person in a vicious circle, so creating a routine that ensures a person has daytime activities, support and self-care is all very important, "said Cirbus. ] gettyimages-1032616768.jpg “/>

Preparing healthy meals and eating a balanced diet can be useful for SAD.


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Make an effort to get enough sleep, exercise regularly stay hydrated and eat healthy, balanced meals will all support your overall health and mental health. Do not be afraid to reach friends and family if you feel down. Emotional support, connection and a sense of community are important to help you feel your best.

Try light therapy

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Woman doing a light therapy session. BSIP / UIG

It is ideal to go outside for at least 20-30 minutes a day. But if you don't have much sun where you live or if your schedule often keeps you in, a light therapy device is a relatively inexpensive solution. "Sitting 20-90 minutes in front of a light box specially designed for light therapy has been effective within a few weeks. The light stimulates pathways in the brain that regulate sleep and helps regulate mood," McKinley said.

You can buy them online in various sizes and prices.


The information in this article is for educational and informational purposes only and is not intended as health or medical advice. Always consult a doctor or other qualified health care professional for any questions you may have about a medical condition or health goals.


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