4 ways to Combat Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD)

I’m sure you’re aware that it’s not summer anymore. The cold air makes your hands too cold to type on your phone, and the sun sets before you even get around to doing homework. To add insult to injury, many people feel drained of energy and motivation to do, well, anything. If you are constantly tired and agitated during the autumn and winter months, then you most likely suffer from seasonal affective disorder (SAD). In this article, I will talk about 4 ways to combat seasonal affective disorder.

What exactly is SAD?

Well, seasonal affective disorder, colloquially called seasonal depression, is a type of depression that only comes out at certain times in the year. The most common seasons where SAD kicks in are during autumn and winter, although there are rarer cases of SAD occurring during spring and summer. Around 15% of the Canadian population deal with some form of SAD. Despite how common SAD is, it’s not clear what causes it. There are two main theories as to what causes SAD. The first theory is that the lack of light disturbs the body’s circadian rhythms, and the second is that the change in seasons disrupts hormone creation.

Treatment for SAD

The first and easiest method of treating SAD is to make sure you follow a daily routine and have a regular schedule. This starts with maintaining a good sleep schedule to help ease some of the symptoms of SAD. This routine also includes eating at consistent times, watching your diet, and exposing yourself to light at regular times every day. Creating a good routine can help maximize your exposure to sunlight, make you feel more well-rested, and give you more energy to go about your everyday life.

This second treatment is strongly connected to the previous one and is about having regular physical activity. Just like with other types of depression, physical activity can help diminish the symptoms of SAD and improve your mood. This can be as simple as just taking a short, daily walk to get your blood flowing and be exposed to a bit of light. Other good options include going on an outdoor run, biking to a nearby park, and hiking on a local trail. Exercising outside helps symptoms the most, but if that isn’t an option, you can work out on something like a treadmill or elliptical.

An experimental form of treatment that I’ve been using recently is light therapy (phototherapy). How it works is that you place a very bright light source, such as Verilux’s HappyLight, within a metre of yourself and turn it on for 20 minutes to an hour a day. It’s supposed to mimic the natural sunlight that you see when outdoors. Phototherapy can take up to a few weeks to start alleviating symptoms but for some, it is regarded as an effective method of combating SAD. Keep in mind that there is very limited and inconclusive research on phototherapy, so it is in no way a hard science.

Keeping a theme of sensory therapy, smell therapy (aromatherapy) is also something that might aid those who have SAD. It works by using essential oils to stimulate parts of the brain that control moods. These areas release certain hormones that make you feel happier and more relaxed. A study done by the American Journal of Hospice and Palliative Medicine found that lavender oil had a positive effect on anxiety, depression, and people’s overall well-being when used with a humidifier. A separate clinical trial by another organization showed that citrus fragrances could normalize certain hormone levels more effectively than antidepressants.

Final Note

It’s important to remember that, even though the winter months can make us feel down, seasons change, and this feeling of doom and gloom will pass. While waiting for the sunlight to return, you can always try to work out, get daily time in the sun, and use photo- and aromatherapy. If you still feel down after trying these, you can always turn to a close friend that you can talk to about these things. Just focus on making it through the day, and as soon as you know it, it’ll be spring, and you’ll get feel the warmth of the sun on your skin.

Written by Josh Tan

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