Seasonal affective disorder (SAD) is a mood disorder characterized by depressive tendencies in certain seasons of the year. Most people with SAD have a typical cyclical pattern whereby they get depressed in the same period every year. Generally, symptoms of seasonal affective disorder begin appearing in the late fall or early winter. Several types of clinical treatment, including phototherapy, psychological intervention, and medication, can help curb the symptoms. Lifestyle modification may also help.
During winter, people are generally less exposed to natural light, both because sunlight is dim and because they do not go out as much due to the cold. The lack of exposure to natural light affects the body's level of serotonin, a hormone responsible for keeping the body awake and active. People with SAD should spend as much time as possible outdoors in natural light to keep serotonin levels balanced.
Artificial lighting can have a similar impact to sunlight on serotonin production, as long as it is suitably potent. Various electronic devices mimic summer-level lighting. People can get medically approved light boxes, dawn simulators, or special light bulbs, which may help to optimize exposure to light, thereby upping serotonin levels.
Physical exercise is known to alleviate stress, relieve anxiety, and release endorphins, helping to counter various symptoms associated with depression. People with seasonal affective disorder should exercise regularly, if possible in well-lit surroundings or natural light. For individuals who do not have the time or inclination to go to the gym, simple exercises at home should be sufficient.
People who live their lives with set patterns and well-planned routines tend to be less prone to depression. A regimented lifestyle allows for timely meals, a certain amount of exercise, and adequate sleep. People with SAD may benefit from having a daily routine where their eating habits, activity levels, and sleep are not compromised, helping to maintain high energy levels and a positive attitude.
Often, people with seasonal affective disorder take medication to keep their spirits from dropping low. The medication may include prescription drugs such as mood stabilizers and antidepressants or over-the-counter medication. Consumption of certain supplements and vitamins might also be of help. Individuals with SAD should take these medications as directed for the best results.
When people engage in activities that please them, stress levels drop and general mood improves. People with seasonal affective disorder may benefit from pursuing their favorite hobbies and completing enjoyable tasks to help soothe their anxiety, lift their spirits, and avoid becoming reclusive and detached.
Many people rely on stimulants such as caffeine, sugar, or alcohol to keep energy levels and mood high. The tendency to drink coffee or tea, eat sugary foods, and binge on alcohol is particularly high in the winter months, when SAD affects the largest number of people. These stimulants, though temporarily rejuvenating, produce unnatural highs and lows, which may aggravate symptoms associated with this depressive disorder.
People prone to seasonal affective disorder should stay close to their near and dear ones when they are feeling most vulnerable. A supportive presence helps ensure they remain distracted from their sadness and engaged in more productive activity. Individuals with SAD who need to travel to see their families gain the benefit of a change in surroundings, which helps to keep spirits high.
People with SAD should avoid anything that triggers sadness, from books and movies that make them feel down to people and places that tend to disturb them.
Sessions with a therapist can be a great de-stressor for anyone. People with SAD might benefit greatly from visiting a therapist to resolve their issues and let out their feelings and emotions.
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