Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD) is a depression that occurs in fall or winter and does not end until spring or summer. There are many theories of what causes SAD, the largest being a Vitamin D deficiency. Vitamin D deficiency can stem from a lack of sun exposure, as well as disruptions in sleeping and waking cycles. An important neurotransmitter or brain chemical, known as serotonin, is sensitive to light, and the absence of light can affect its potency and release, which may lead to depression. SAD is a form of clinical depression and can interfere with school, work, relationships, health, and more. The physical, emotional, and cognitive issues that accompany SAD can have long-term, negative effects when experienced without treatment. Simple chores and work tasks can seem insurmountable for those suffering with SAD, but luckily there are many options that can help alleviate this type of depression.
Here are some things you can do (please consult a licensed physician beforehand):
- Light-Therapy: shown to have very beneficial effects for patients with SAD. This therapy utilizes a light box that mimics the sun’s natural rays, typically around 2,500-10,000 Lux (amount of light intensity). Patients who sit in front of this box for at least half an hour a day can talk on the phone, read, or do anything while awake to achieve the optimum benefits
- Cognitive-Behavioral Therapy: This has been shown to have the best long-term outcomes, and can also improve quality of life year round
- Antidepressants: please consult a licensed MD before taking antidepressants. A prescription medicine may help alleviate SAD but is recommended to be taken in conjunction with cognitive-behavioral therapy
- Exercise: Can seem incredibly daunting, but even a short walk around the neighborhood every day has been shown to have positive effects on mood and health. To stay accountable, try inviting a family member, friend, or neighbor to exercise with you. They will reap the benefits, too!
- Go outside every day: Try to get out as much as possible, and take advantage of sunny days by eating lunch outside, going on a hike, or doing something artistic, like painting or writing
- Create a healthy sleep routine: This is crucial. Set a consistent time to go to sleep at night and wake up each morning. Avoid television, computers, and carbohydrates before bed for best results
- Take up new hobbies: This is a great way to meet new people and break up the monotony of the winter months. Hobbies that include an aspect of social interaction, such as Book Clubs, Sports, or cooking classes, can also improve mood and increase happiness. For book clubs in your area, please refer to: http://www.readerscircle.org/
Above all, patients must be willing to work towards dealing with Seasonal Affective Disorder in a productive and meaningful way.
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West Valley Counseling Center is located at 19634 Ventura Blvd. Suite 212 Tarzana, CA 91356