Winter Blues: 5 Tips for Dealing with Seasonal Affective Disorder

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Winter Blues: 5 Tips for Dealing with Seasonal Affective Disorder

Do extreme seasons make you feel low? For a considerable amount of people, seasonal affective disorder (or SAD) is a real condition, where depression sets in during the chilly winter or sweltering summer months. Typically, this disorder is more serious in cold weather, with psychologists finding 9.9% prevalence in Alaska, compared to only 1.4% in Florida. Common symptoms for SAD include insomnia, low energy, weight gain, and difficulty connecting with others. As a full-time college student, it’s important to recognize when SAD is rearing its ugly head, and take steps to minimize the effects. Below, we’ve shared five helpful strategies for handling your seasonal sadness.

1. Diagnose Your Depression:
Seasonal affective disorder is not only caused by weather changes; in almost all cases, the individual also has bipolar disorder or clinical depression. To get a handle on your symptoms, it’s important to visit a physician and learn exactly what your mental condition is. From there, you can receive the medication, counseling, and additional treatment for your underlying disorder, which will help to make seasonal swings far less extreme.

2. Soak in the Rays:
Sunshine is vital to our health and happiness. However, the days are much shorter during the winter months, and colder regions of the world experience prolonged cloudy skies. This can easily lead to a deficiency in vitamin D and melatonin, which has a direct effect on our mental state. In areas where sunlight is scarce, you should invest in a light therapy lamp, which has a special lightbox design to emit more lumens. We recommend a lightbox with bright white light (10,000 lux).

3. Exercise Often:
It doesn’t matter what season you’re in — regular exercise can have a tremendously positive effect on your wellbeing. Sports, cycling, swimming, and dozens of other physical activities help to reduce depression when life seems too overwhelming. Studies have shown that 20-minute intervals of cardio, followed by 20 minutes of light therapy, can be even more effective for boosting mental health.

4. Talk to Someone:
Recent research from the University of Vermont has found that cognitive behavioral therapy (or CBT) has a tremendously positive effect on SAD suffers, in some cases surpassing the benefits of light therapy. Group sessions allow you to share feelings and learn helpful techniques for changing negative thought patterns, which go a long way towards improving overall mood (especially when it’s chilly outside). Researchers recommend that you attend at least 12 CBT sessions, followed by a check-up a year later to see how you’re doing.

5. Get the Right Medication:
Depending on your underlying condition, SSRI antidepressants can be a valuable tool for getting out of a seasonal slump. Physicians have found that fluoxetine, paroxetine, and sertraline are most effective, with extended-release bupropion also improving symptoms for one in eight people. Make sure you’re diagnosed properly before taking antidepressants, because everyone’s body chemistry is different.