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Autumn and winter are beautiful seasons. The  leaves changing colors, the air grows sharp and crisp, snow and frost and ice appear. It sounds lovely, doesn’t it?

Except, for some people, it’s not great. The reduction in daylight hours can bring on seasonal depression. For people who struggle with SAD (Seasonal Affective Disorder), autumn and winter harken days of depressed moods, weight gain or loss, periods of withdrawing from the world, and increased sleep.

People who struggle with seasonal affective disorder are often misdiagnosed.  SAD is not a stand-alone mental illness, but is a subtype of Major Depressive Disorder or Bipolar Disorder.

If you suffer from depression, you’re not alone. According to the AAFP, approximately 4-6 percent of people have depression, and another 10-20 percent may have SAD.

If you’re prone to seasonal depression, now is the time to take action to keep the depressed feelings at bay and gain a better sense of control.

Here are 6 easy things you can do to battle Seasonal Affective Disorder. 

  1. Get a light box. Light boxes have been shown to reduce depression due to SAD, according to the Mayo Clinic.  Using a light box is pretty easy, but there are specific instructions about how to set up your light and how long to use it for every day. These can very depending on the strength of the light. There are a great many resources for this online.
  2. Stick to your routine. You may feel too tired to go to the gym or have dinner with friends, but it’s crucial to avoid hiding away, even if that sounds very appealing. Making time to go outside is especially helpful for people with SAD. Getting out of the house will help you avoid the isolation that worsens depression.
  3. Look into Cognitive Behavioral Therapy, or CBT. CBT has been shown in many studies to help people with Major Depressive Disorder that is not seasonal, and it’s also been shown to help with people suffering from SAD. CBT is a short-term, goal-focused type of therapy that is centered on the here and now.
  4. Consider medication.  There have been studies that show medication, CBT, and light boxes all work well, but they work best when combined. Medication can help take the edge off depression and make functioning easier.
  5. Seek counseling. A therapist can help you better understand what is going on, and can help you weather the rough times. SAD is a serious condition and can cause a lot of pain and frustration. Your therapist can provide support and encouragement. A good therapist will be able to help you make sense of your mood changes and give you practical advise to help you get through these difficult times.
  6. Chart your moods.  I’m a big fan of charting moods. With smart phone technology, charting becomes easy and even fun. Last week I blogged about this specifically. Recording your thoughts and feelings throughout the day can give you a sense of control over your emotions. You can gain a better understanding of when your depression is at its worst or best, and find ways to limit depression’s impact.

Seasonal Affective Disorder doesn’t have to rule your life. If you feel comfortable, you can share your struggles with compassionate family and friends, and they can become a support for you. There are also forums here on Psych Central where you can give and receive support and encouragement.

Above all, remember that you are not alone in this.

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