A form of depression that correlates with the change of seasons, Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD) affects approximately 10 million Americans each year and is more common in women than men. Most sufferers tend to have difficulties in the winter because there’s less daylight, which causes a disruption with your internal clock that triggers depression. Less light also means less serotonin which can also make you feel blue. If you have SAD, there are some methods of treatment that can help you feel like your true self year-round.
Broad-band light therapy is frequently used as a treatment option because it mimics the effect of sunlight. Patients can either get a light box or a visor that’s worn like a hat. Sessions typically last between 30 and 60 minutes each day during the fall and winter months. While there are generally few side effects, talk to your doctor before purchasing a light box or visor because those with sensitive skin, manic depressive disorders, or previous/current eye disorders can have adverse results. Remember, nothing truly replaces natural sunlight, so bundle up and try to spend as much time outside as you can — even taking a brief walk on your lunch break can be effective. Sunlight raises levels of serotonin, a mood-regulating chemical that helps brain cells communicate.
CBT helps those with SAD replace negative feelings, thoughts, and behavior with positive thinking and actions — such as doing something you enjoy like having lunch with a friend or maintaining a hobby. Studies indicate that CBT may be more effective in treating SAD for the long term because it can change one’s way of thinking and behavioral responses in stressful situations.
Good old-fashioned exercise is a fantastic remedy for both body and mind. Activity improves mood because it raises levels of feel good neurotransmitters in the brain that can also have a meditative effect. The endorphin rush (sometimes called a runner’s high) is liable to last for hours after you’re done working out. Studies show that exercise is even more effective when combined with light, so consider heading outside. Take advantage of the winter with a sport like ice skating or skiing if the weather is cooperating.
Taking medication should not be the first or only solution for treating SAD as you can run the risk of addiction — some drugs can even cause suicidal thoughts. If your doctor feels you are a candidate for medication, he/she might prescribe a selective serotonin reuptake inhibitor to boost the serotonin levels in the brain, or bupropion to boost three different chemical messengers: serotonin, norepinephrine, and dopamine. An extended-release version can be taken in the early fall before depression really kicks in.
Take Extra Measures If You Have A Dual Diagnosis
Several people with SAD noted that they have at least one close relative with a severe depressive disorder (55 percent) while 34% are related to someone with an alcohol addiction.
It’s not uncommon for someone to struggle with SAD and substance abuse. Research has shown that Dual Diagnosis patients have a better chance at recovery when both disorders are treated simultaneously because the symptoms of SAD are likely to encourage drinking and deter them from their path to recovery.
The symptoms of SAD are very similar to those of someone with chronic depression. This is why it’s important that you speak to your doctor so he/she can rule out any other potential disorders. If at any time you experience suicidal thoughts or behavior, seek help immediately.
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