If you experience seasonal affective disorder (SAD), learning how to manage the symptoms of SAD can bring some relief. From spending time outside to taking medication, there are a variety of treatments available to help you manage the symptoms of SAD.
Increased Natural Light
Although the medical community does not fully understand what causes SAD, researchers have linked the symptoms of SAD to biochemical changes in the brain due to reduced amounts of sunlight. For this reason, increased exposure to light is a common Ã‘ and often effective Ã‘ approach to managing seasonal depression.
For some, the easiest way to get increased light is simply to spend more time outdoors. Even overcast outdoor winter light is usually brighter than the brightest indoor lighting. You can also arrange your home and work environment to take advantage of natural light from windows and glass doors.
If itÃ•s difficult for you to get enough light outdoors, another option is light therapy (also called “phototherapy”). Light therapy boxes provide an intense light that mimics outdoor light. Although you donÃ•t need a prescription to buy a light therapy box, you may want to check with your health care provider before choosing a light therapy box and beginning this treatment. This is because not all light therapy boxes have been tested to make sure they’re safe and effective. Also, different boxes work in different ways, using different parts of the light spectrum and providing varying intensities of light.
Managing SAD with Medication
Another option for managing seasonal depression is antidepressant medication. A number of different medications are available via prescription, so youÃ•ll need to talk with your health care provider to determine if any of them are appropriate for you.
Psychotherapy may help with managing seasonal depression, as your mood and behavior can affect the symptoms of SAD. Cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) is most frequently used for SAD patients. Components of this approach may include:
- Cognitive restructuring: This involves identifying and correcting thoughts associated with depressed feelings
- Behavioral activation: Behavioral activation is designed to help patients become more re-involved in enjoyable activities
- Problem solving: This can help patients improve their coping skills.
One study, published in the journal Behavior Therapy, found that CBT specifically designed to treat people with SAD better prevents recurrences of depression than either light therapy or a combination of the two.
Self-Care and SAD
Managing seasonal depression can also involve a number of self-care activities to improve your mood and physical functioning. The following steps may help reduce the symptoms of SAD:
- Eat regular, healthy meals.
- Exercise regularly.
- Get enough rest and sleep.
- Join a support group.
- Relax and learn stress management techniques.
- Socialize. Be with people you enjoy being around.
- Take a vacation in a sunny climate.
Work with your doctor to determine which of these treatments Ã‘ or which combination Ã‘ will be the best way to relieve your symptoms. Once you find what works best for you, stay with your plan for managing seasonal depression.
Mayo Clinic Staff. (2008). Seasonal affective disorder treatment: choosing a light therapy box. Retrieved May 12, 2010, from the Mayo Clinic website: www.mayoclinic.com/health/seasonal-affective-disorder-treatment/dn00013.
Mayo Clinic Staff. (2009). Seasonal affective disorder: coping and support. Retrieved May 12, 2010, from the Mayo Clinic website: www.mayoclinic.com/health/seasonal-affective-disorder/DS00195/DSECTION=coping-and-support.
Gardner, A. (2009). Psychotherapy beats light treatment for SAD. Retrieved May 12, 2010, from the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services website: www.healthfinder.gov/news/newsstory.aspx?docID=632089.
University of Michigan Depression Center Staff. (2006). Cognitive behavioral therapy. Retrieved May 12, 2010, from the University of Michigan website: www.med.umich.edu/depression/cbt.htm.