As the days get shorter and the sunlight gets thinner at this time of the year, do you find yourself feeling tired and sad? Overeating and craving sweets and quick-burning carbs like pizza? Do you lose interest in doing things you usually enjoy, and sleep more than usual without feeling rested when you wake up? Do you have difficulty concentrating and focusing? If so, you might have a common form of depression triggered by biochemical changes in the brain that occur in some people as a result of the loss of daylight during fall and winter months. Women are four times as likely as men to experience seasonal affective disorder (SAD), and while the overall incidence of clinically diagnosable SAD in the US is about 2-5%, up to 20% of people experience less severe symptoms that nevertheless leave them feeling tired and less able to enjoy life.
So what can you do if you are one of the many who struggle with symptoms of SAD? If your symptoms are mild, try maintaining a consistent sleep-wake schedule to reduce further circadian-rhythm disruptions (the changes in daylight cause disruptions in the biological rhythms of the body and are believed to play a role in SAD); eating a balanced diet of fruits, vegetables, lean protein and little or no sugar and starchy carbohydrates; spending time outdoors in the sunlight in the morning and keeping your indoor spaces as bright as possible with natural lighting; and getting 30 minutes a day of moderate exercise like walking. With consistent self-care, you may find yourself feeling better fairly quickly.
If self-care doesn’t improve your mood and energy level, schedule an appointment with your primary care physician or a psychologist, both of whom are trained to diagnose and treat SAD. There are many effective treatments available, including medication, light box therapy, vitamin D supplements, and cognitive behavioral therapy that teaches people to make lifestyle changes that lead to relief from symptoms. The dark time of the year doesn’t have to darken your mood or drive you into hibernation – with many treatment options available, you can soon feel like your sunny, outgoing self again.