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Tis the Season: Seasonal Affective Disorder

Image courtesy of  Ohmega1982at FreeDigitalPhotos.net

On November 2nd this year will end Daylight Savings Time. It is this time of year where the US (with the exception of Arizona and Hawaii) and many other places in the world where we ‘fall behind’ in order to ‘save time’ and the days get darker and colder. Not such a coincidence, those who are in seasonal climates and further from the equator can struggle with the change of season and may be impacted by SAD, Seasonal AffectiveDisorder. The symptoms are similar to those of a traditional a depression but to a lesser degree and for a shorter period of time. Experiencing mood swings, irritability, trouble with memory and concentrating, body aches, loss of sex drive, insomnia, decreased energy and activity levels may occur. Behavioral changes such as not caring for your hygiene or appearance as usual, staying indoors or in bed or the couch and over/under eating are not uncommon.

So what can you do between the months of November thru March in order to manage and decrease the impact of SAD? There are actually a few simple steps one can take that can make a difference.

Adjust Sleeping Patterns
Given the change in the time it will likely impact your sleep. Less sleep tends to lead to more sleepiness, more distractibility and greater risk for accidents. The easiest and most direct way to handle these changes are to not resist the changes and adjust your sleeping schedule. Getting enough sleep is essential to mental health. Making sure you continue to get the needed hours of sleep in order for you to function at your best is key. This may mean going to bed an hour earlier than you had and continuing to awake consistently as you had the week before the change. Keeping this pattern can help decrease
the physiological impact of the changes.

Try not to Hibernate & Get Moving
Hibernation is effective for bears but not so much for humans. As the weather changes and it gets colder we naturally want to stay indoors more. Being indoors also tends to lead to more inactivity. Even though many of us have a love/hate relationship with exercising all the science shows that the mind and body have a love/love relationship with exercise. The body and our internal systems respond positively and function at its best when it is not sedentary. With the change in daylight and weather is tempting to stay in and not maintain or increase physical activity. This can further feed into the depressed mood since exercise is a positive natural way to counteract the severity of depression.

Go Outside During the Day
Spend as much time outside during daylight hours as possible. Few things can feel as depressing as leaving the house in the morning in darkness only to return home when it’s dark again. By making a conscious effort to be outside when there is daylight and by this I mean more than just being in a vehicle during a commute.

If increasing your daylight time naturally isn’t possible, artificial Light Therapy also known as phototherapy is a proven effective alternative. As with every therapeutic intervention it is not for everyone. It is still important to consult with your doctor to make sure this is a good fit for you. Those who experience symptoms of Bipolar or are on certain medications may have unintended adverse consequences.
For more on the potential risks please refer to this Mayo Clinic link:
http://www.mayoclinic.org/tests-procedures/light-therapy/basics/risks/prc-20009617

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