You can take a number of measures to help alleviate symptoms of SAD, or seasonal affective disorder. In mild cases, preventing seasonal depression may be as simple as going for a walk or spending a little time in the garden. For more serious cases of seasonal affective disorder, however, treatments can range from light therapy to antidepressant medication and psychotherapy.
Simple Lifestyle Remedies
The most common form of SAD occurs in late fall and winter. Researchers believe that a shortage of daylight hours triggers changes in brain and body chemistry, leading to varying degrees of depression.
If you have a manageable case of SAD, preventing seasonal depression might mean simply increasing your exposure to sunlight:
- Brighten your environment: Keep drapes and blinds open during the daytime. If possible, arrange your schedule or work environment to spend more time near windows in your home or office.
- Get some exercise: Recent evidence supports the positive effects of physical exercise on stress, anxiety and some types of depression, and seasonal affective disorder is no exception. Start an in-home exercise routine or join a gym and work out several times a week.
- Go outside: Take advantage of daylight hours during the short winter days. Even if it’s cold, bundle up and take a long walk. Outdoor light can be helpful, even on cloudy or overcast days.
If your symptoms of SAD are severe, your doctor may recommend light therapy, during which you’ll sit a few feet from a light therapy box each day for 30 to 90 minutes. By mimicking outdoor light, light therapy â€” or phototherapy â€” may cause a change in brain chemistry, affecting levels of serotonin, a neurotransmitter linked to mood.
Phototherapy appears to have few side effects. Although it’s widely used, researchers don’t yet know how light therapy works or how effective it is in preventing seasonal depression.
People with severe seasonal affective disorder may be prescribed antidepressant medications to reduce or alleviate symptoms of SAD. Unfortunately, the medication may take several weeks or even months to become effective. You might also need to try several different medications to find one that works for you.
Your physician may recommend starting treatment with an antidepressant well before the time of year that your symptoms of SAD typically appear, as well as continuing treatment after they disappear.
Regardless of its biochemical causes, mood, negative attitudes and stress may worsen seasonal affective disorder. With psychotherapy, you can cope with symptoms of SAD by identifying and addressing your negative thoughts and behaviors. You’ll also learn stress management and relaxation techniques to help you minimize or reverse those toxic thoughts and behaviors.
American Psychiatric Association. (2010). Seasonal affective disorder. Retrieved July 10, 2010, from http://healthyminds.org/Main-Topic/Seasonal-Affective-Disorder.aspx.
Family Doctor. (2010) Seasonal affective disorder. Retrieved July 10, 2010, from http://familydoctor.org/online/famdocen/home/common/mentalhealth/depression/267.printerview.html.
Mayo Clinic. (2007). Seasonal affective disorder (SAD). Retrieved July 10, 2010, from http://www.mayoclinic.com/health/seasonal-affective-disorder/DS00195.