Treatment for
Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD)

by John M. Grohol, Psy.D.
November, 2004


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Seasonal affective disorder (SAD), also known as the "winter blues", is a seasonal but serious disorder that can affect up to 5% of Americans. Luckily there are a number of effective treatment options for anyone who is suffering from seasonal affective disorder.

Light Boxes

Research has found that the majority of those suffering from the winter blues experienced relief solely from the regular use of light boxes. Light boxes emit high intensities of light of 2,500 to 10,000 lux (as compared to a normal light fixture that emits 250 to 500 lux) and produce similar effects to the sun's natural rays. The high intensities of light improve the mood of those suffering from the winter blues because they restrict the secretion of melatonin in the brain. These boxes are best used daily and in the early morning for periods of 30 minutes to two hours. Depending on the severity of the winter blues case, most people find their symptoms are gone after just 2 weeks of use. Light boxes may or may not be covered by your insurance plan, so be sure to your Plan provider.

Exercise and its benefits for the blues

Exercise has proven to help people combat feeling of the blues in the winter. Not only does exercise improve mood, but it also has been shown to reduce stress, which often exacerbates feelings of depression brought on by the winter blues. Studies had pointed out that one hour doing aerobic exercise outside (even with a cloudy skies overhead) had the same benefits as 2.5 hours of light treatment indoors. Aerobic exercise can help a person rid themselves of the feelings of depression. Briskly walking, taking a run, skiing, sledding and having a snowball fight have all be proven to help suffers of the blues feel better.

Eating Right

Many people who suffer from the winter blues crave junk food and soft drinks as the days get shorter. The reason some people indulge in high-sugar foods is because carbohydrates are often effective in increasing energy levels in the brain. A better strategy for anyone with the winter blues would be to eat larger portions of complex carbohydrates, like pasta and rice, and healthy simple carbohydrates like fruits and fruit juices during meals. Also, stay away from unhealthy snacks that will cause momentary relief, but ultimately decrease energy and increases weight gain for many. Increased weight gain may also lower a person's self-esteem, worsening one's depression.

Sleep Better

An unhealthy sleep-wake schedule can limit the number of hours that those with the winter blues are exposed to sunlight. Winter blues sufferers should make an effort to expose themselves to sunlight in the early morning. Take a walk outside or open the curtains in your room as soon as you rise. Try to limit sleep to 8-hour periods on a regular schedule. Oversleeping and fluctuation in sleep-wake schedule causes increases in levels of melatonin during sleep, which can contribute to feelings of depression. Set a regular bedtime and wake up at the same time each day. This will give you more energy during the day and reduce feelings of depression.

Medication

Some people who suffer from more severe cases of the winter blues might find that anti-depressant medicine, in conjunction with other forms of therapy, assist mood. Drugs like Paxil, Prozac, and Zoloft, have proven effective with some people who have seasonal affective disorder. There is evidence that suggests that over the counter medication St. John's wort may also be effective also proven effective in relieving symptoms. If considering any medication, you should always first speak with your doctor to see which one may be right for you.


Additional SAD Resources:

Last reviewed: By John M. Grohol, Psy.D. on 9 Oct 2013
    Published on PsychCentral.com. All rights reserved.

 

 

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