How to Affect Seasonal Affective Disorder
Somewhere between 4 percent and 6 percent of Americans suffer from full-fledged seasonal affective disorder (SAD), and the vast majority of these unfortunate victims are women in their 20s, 30s and 40s. Even among the non-SAD population, feelings of listlessness, lifelessness and low motivation are common during the winter months, when the mercury drops out of sight and the sun hides its warming face for 14 to 16 hours at a time. In Alaska, where even the icicles have icicles and the moon sometimes rules the sky for 20 hours or more without interruption, up to 10 percent of the population reports symptoms consistent with mild-to-severe seasonal affective disorder.
More than just the wintertime blues, SAD is a medical condition that destroys happiness, undermines achievement and sabotages relationships. If during these months of unrelenting cold and darkness you are feeling overwhelmed by sadness, are having trouble fulfilling your responsibilities or are just in general feeling like a stranger inside your own skin, it’s highly conceivable you’ve been entrapped by the sticky fingers of seasonal affective disorder.
Do-It-Yourself Guide to Overcoming SAD
If you fear your sadness is turning into SADness, you may need to be evaluated by a professional therapist to see if seasonal affective disorder is your problem.
But in the meantime, here is a list of suggestions that can help chase away the wintertime blues for both the mildly depressed and the SAD entrenched:
- Get outside and “enjoy” the wonderful weather: If you have to bundle up in enough layers to make yourself look like the Michelin man, so be it. It is important to get out—preferably into the sunshine—no matter how low the temperatures are, because if you don’t, you will convert your house from a home into a prison.
- Follow Sheryl Crow’s advice and soak up that sun: Take full advantage of the natural light of the day; open the curtains in every room and move your most comfortable chair into the area of the house where the sunlight is the brightest. For as long as it stays in the sky—even if that’s not as long as you’d like—the sun is your friend and the enemy of cold-season despondency.
- Let those light boxes light up your life: When Debby Boone released her hit “You Light Up My Life,” most people thought she was singing about romantic love. And perhaps she was; but then again the person who wrote that song may have been a SAD sufferer singing the praises of light boxes, which are one of the best antidotes to wintertime blues. Research shows up to 50 percent of SAD victims can benefit from indoor light therapy, and the only way to do it right is to purchase a light box. They cost $50 to $100 when purchased new, but that is an investment well worth making for those suffering from the disheartening pain of seasonal affective disorder.
- Drastically reduce your consumption of sugar: A healthy diet in general can help improve mood, but the emotional ups and downs caused by sugar consumption can be especially damaging for those suffering from any sort of depressive condition.
- Exercise, either indoors or outdoors or preferably both: One meta-review of the available evidence found that as a treatment for depression, exercise produces results that compare favorably to psychological therapy or anti-depressant medications. And if the form of exercise you choose gets you outdoors (ice skating, cross-country skiing, snowshoeing, etc.) into the sunshine, so much the better.
- Practice activities that promote mindfulness: Yoga, meditation, self-hypnosis, progressive relaxation, tai chi; all of these activities help to reprogram the brain even as they improve energy levels and boost motivation. Seasonally-depressed minds and bodies are in a psychologically-induced funk, and anything that restores physical and emotional balance is bound to have a virtuous effect.
- Take a family vacation: Going somewhere warm with the ones you love makes sense, but a skiing vacation or a winter camping trip could have an uplifting impact as well. The most important thing is to get out of the house from time to time, diversifying your life experiences and living your dreams of fun and excitement.
Making the SADness Go Away
Depression at any time of the year punctures and deflates the spirit. In such a situation repairs are required, and with a little willpower and plenty of smart strategy, it is within your power to make the proper fixes.
Trained professional assistance may be needed to help you complete your journey back to wellness. But you can—and should—take an active and creative role in your own healing.