As winter’s cold and harsh weather continues, gloomy feelings and restlessness strike many people. For some, the condition is more intense and prolonged, resulting in a diagnosis of seasonal affective disorder (or SAD).
The symptoms of SAD resemble those for depression – feelings of worthlessness or hopelessness, fatigue, irritability, loss of sleep, and overeating. But the condition usually improves as winter departs.
When winter blahs get more serious.
What causes SAD?
Seasonal affective disorder is caused by body rhythms that are not in sync with the sun, according to research from Alfred Lewy at the Oregon Health and Science University. Days are shorter, which can disrupt the pineal gland’s production of melatonin during the night. The body’s wake and sleep cycle gets out of whack, and chemical changes in the brain spur depression symptoms.
Light therapy can treat SAD
Light therapy – exposure to artificial light – is a common way to treat SAD, according to Dr. Olsen, a psychologist and expert on JustAnswer.
“During light therapy, you sit or work near a device called a light therapy box,” Dr. Olsen explained. “The box gives off bright light that mimics natural outdoor light. Light therapy is thought to affect brain chemicals linked to mood, easing SAD symptoms. It is considered to be generally safe.”
However, mild side effects can include headache, nausea, or eye strain. She advises patients to consult a doctor before undergoing light therapy, especially if they have a medical condition.
Other ways to reduce depression symptoms
Dr. Olson recommends other tactics that can help improve mood and reduce the intensity of depression:
Diet: Choose low-fat protein sources, like fish and skinless poultry. Focus on fruits, vegetables, and whole grains.
Exercise: Physical activity increases blood flow to your whole body, including your brain.
Unplug: Set limits on the amount of time you spend on the Internet to avoid information overload.
Sleep: Try to sleep in complete darkness, and spend time outside in bright light during the day.
Got a specific question about depression or any other factors affecting your health? Experts in a wide range of fields are available right now on JustAnswer to respond to your questions.