The end of Daylight Savings Time in most of the United States this weekend means shorter days and along with that, for 10 million Americans, comes Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD). Another 10-20% of the population suffers from a more mild form of SAD, and it’s 4 times more common in women than men. Many people who suffer from SAD become ill around age 20, according to the American Psychiatric Association, and the farther north you live, the more likely you are to be effected.
Seasonal depression is often the butt of winter comics and joked about by those not intending to cause harm with their word. The truth is SAD is not something to take lightly. Some people with SAD experienced symptoms severe enough to disrupt their quality of life and 6% of those effected require hospitalization. Symptoms of SAD typically begin in late fall or early winter and subside when daylight strengthens in the spring.
There are ways you can manage seasonal depression, and each person responds differently to treatment. It may take one or several different methods to combat the effects of SAD, and sometimes professional intervention is required. (there are no affiliate links in this post)
- Artificial Light Therapy. The main cause of SAD is a response to the change in daylight/nighttime cycle. A reduction in the amount of exposure to natural light causes changes in your biological clock, which exposure to an artificial light helps reset. You use a light box from 30 mins- two hours a day, depending on the model, in the morning (the model I linked has a setting that allows you to use it at half strength in the afternoon if needed) every day until the season changes.
- Vitamin D Supplements. Your body absorbs vitamin D from the sun, and in the summer it only takes 15 minutes of mid-day sun to meet the daily requirements. In the fall and winter the tilt of the Earth reduces the sun’s strength to anyone living above the 37th parallel, and you need to get your vitamin D elsewhere. If you drink milk and eat fish, then you only need 600 IU/day. If, like me, you are dairy intolerant and don’t eat meat, you might need 1,000 IU/day. Be careful not to take too much vitamin D, as it can be toxic and cause kidney problems.
- Fish Oil. My therapist recommended fish oil to me and I had mixed feelings about it as I don’t consume meat. However, plenty of research later it appears that Omega 3 fatty acids are beneficial in all sorts of depression, including SAD, so I figured it was worth a shot. I should note that I don’t just take it during the fall and winter, I take one capsule every day throughout the year. I figure it can’t hurt.
- Counseling. You may find that you are not able to treat your seasonal depression on your own. I tried for years and finally got to the point where I decided that professional help was necessary. There is nothing wrong with admitting you need help. Therapy can aid you in learning how to manage your symptoms and how to prevent future episodes.
- Antidepressants. You may find that even with counseling, your SAD is disrupting your quality of life. Under the treatment of a qualified therapist, you might decide that antidepressants are the next step. They may be used alone, or in combination with light therapy. You many need to take them seasonally, or year round. Follow the advice of your medical professional and remember that there is no shame in getting help.
The important thing to remember is that this too shall pass. No matter how you feel, the short, dark days will eventually end and the light will return. If you find yourself slipping into unhealthy habits and behaviors, don’t be afraid to reach out and ask for help.
Do you suffer from seasonal depression too? I’d love to chat with you about it in the comments below.
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