Seasonal Affective Disorder Support
If the mere thought of facing winter leaves you feeling depressed, you may be suffering from seasonal affective disorder. Seasonal affective disorder is a form of depression that tends to start in autumn and continue throughout winter. There are probably few people who particularly enjoy getting out of bed before the sun is up and dressing in the cold. But if you’d rather hibernate than face the turn of the season, you may be suffering from more than a simple case of the winter blues. Seasonal affective disorder, or SAD, is a form of depression that tends to start in autumn and continue throughout winter, recurring at the same time each year.
HIDING UNDER THE COVERS
Possible SAD symptoms include depression and anxiety, hopelessness, cravings and weight gain, social withdrawal, oversleeping, a heavy feeling in the arms or legs and a lack of energy, concentration and interest. It’s been suggested that the reduction in sunlight in winter can lower levels of the hormones melatonin and serotonin, which can subsequently disrupt the internal clock (which tells you when to sleep and when to be awake) and cause depression. The year-round sunny climate of South Africa makes it less likely that you’ll suffer from SAD compared to people living further from the equator, where winter days can be short and miserable with seemingly endless nights in between. But you may nevertheless be affected. Your risk is increased if you’re a woman, if you have relatives with the condition and if you have clinical depression or bipolar disorder.
DON’T IGNORE THE SYMPTOMS
Untreated SAD, just like other types of depression, can lead to thoughts and attempts of suicide, social withdrawal, problems at school or work and substance abuse. Because of this, you should seek help if you think you may be affected.
SAD is commonly treated using light therapy or antidepressants, although both should be used with caution if you have bipolar disorder, as they can trigger a manic episode. Light therapy involves a specialised light box that mimics natural sunlight and stimulates the production of feel-good hormones. This can be combined with melatonin supplements to help get your internal clock back on track. Generally, melatonin should be taken in the late afternoons, with light therapy used in the mornings. If this treatment doesn’t help or you have severe symptoms, you may be prescribed antidepressants. Antidepressants can take several weeks to take effect, so your doctor may recommend that you begin treatment a few weeks before your symptoms tend to start each year. Another possible treatment option is psychotherapy, which can help you deal with negative thoughts and emotions.
BRIGHTENING YOUR OUTLOOK
To further improve symptoms or possibly stop SAD from developing in the first place, you can make some simple lifestyle changes. These include brightening up your living and work environment, by letting in as much sunlight as possible. Spending time outdoors in natural light will also help fight off the winter gloom. And then there’s that natural depression and anxiety buster: regular physical exercise. Although cold winter days lend themselves to snuggling under a blanket with a good book, you should make an effort to get moving even on the most miserable of days. This is because exercise increases the release of feel-good brain chemicals and may also improve your mood by increasing your body temperature and reducing inflammation.
Exercise can also increase your confidence and distract you from your worries. What’s more, the social interaction you get from joining a gym or sports club, for example, can help lift your mood. But simply pottering around your house and garden may help – the very act of getting moving, as opposed to lying in bed all day, can help you beat the winter blues.
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