Mind & Spirit

7 ways to combat Seasonal Affective Disorder

By: Daniela Payne

Getty Images Author: Canadian Living Credits: Getty Images

Mind & Spirit

7 ways to combat Seasonal Affective Disorder

By: Daniela Payne
If you're suffering from Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD) – a type of clinical depression that follows the change in season, usually lasting from fall to spring – you're probably looking for ways to ease your symptoms. Feeling lethargic, irritable, oversleeping, gaining weight, craving carbohydrates, withdrawing from your social circle and a depressed mood during the winter months are all common indicators of SAD. Here are some things you can try to help relieve these symptoms, and get you feeling like yourself again.

1. Get some light
On cold, dark days the tendency might be to keep the blinds drawn and hide under the covers. But natural light can help boost your mood on the darkest of days. Open your blinds as soon as you wake up to let in as much light as possible. Consider painting your rooms neutral colours or hang a mirror in the rooms where you spend lots of time – this can help mimic the effects of natural light. It also helps to lace up your shoes and get out for a walk. "Getting outside and experiencing some natural light – especially on a bright sunny day – can be helpful," says Dr. Matthew Chow, medical director of psychiatry at the Mood Disorder Association of B.C.

2. Exercise, eat well and get a good night's sleep
"Regular exercise, a balanced diet, and good sleep habits are helpful for a variety of health conditions, including SAD," says Dr. Chow. Hit up a class at your local gym, enlist some friends to go for a hike, or commit to taking the dog out for a 30-minute walk in the park. You may notice after a couple of weeks of regular exercise that your symptoms of SAD begin to lessen.

Activities like yoga, meditation and Tai Chi can help improve mood, as can therapies like massage.

3. Light therapy

Controlled exposure to special types of lights, which mimic the effects of natural, outdoor light is known as light therapy. It is reported that light therapy acts as an anti-depressant in 70 percent of people who suffer from SAD. "Light therapy is very effective, and on a par with medications for the most part," explains Dr. Chow. "An approved light therapy box used in the appropriate manner can lead to resolution of symptoms without concerns about side effects from medications."

There are many light therapy units on the market, starting at around $100. Treatments are often recommended for 15 to 30 minutes a day. If you think you'd benefit from light therapy talk to your physician about a treatment plan and which light therapy unit is right for you. Using an unapproved unit that contains ultraviolet light can damage your eyes. Approved light therapy units are UV-filtered.

It's also important to note that light therapy isn't for everyone, and can cause minor side effects.

4. Talk therapy
"Talk therapy can be helpful for SAD," says Dr. Chow. "It teaches people certain skills they can use the rest of their life to combat the symptoms of depression." Skills might include: coping with daily life, managing stress, discussing your condition with loved ones, and helping to identify negative patterns of behavior that may be making you feel worse.

If you don't have insurance or can't afford talk therapy, look for peer support groups. They're often free of cost.

5. Medication
Medication is also a treatment option for SAD sufferers. "Antidepressants can be very effective for SAD," explains Dr. Chow. "It's best to speak to a healthcare professional about the specific option that would be right for you."

6. Get away
If time and money allow, book a beach vacation to a sunny destination. An all-inclusive resort or a cruise might be a good option, as the stress of planning on your end is minimal, and there will be lots of opportunities for relaxation.

7. Get help
Don't self-diagnose or self-treat. Make an appointment with your family doctor or a psychological professional if you think you're suffering from SAD or depression. They will get you an accurate diagnosis and help come up with a treatment plan that best suits your individual needs.

Find five natural ways to manage depression here.

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Mind & Spirit

7 ways to combat Seasonal Affective Disorder