Millions of Americans struggle with seasonal depression, or Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD), each year. Commonly brought on during the fall and winter, the condition can occur during any seasonal change and last as long as four or five months. People with SAD may feel lethargic or moody and tend to sleep more. Symptoms also can include social withdrawal, trouble concentrating, weight gain, and feelings of depression.
According to the National Institute of Mental Health, women and those living farther away from the equator are more likely to experience SAD.
Some experts believe shorter days and less sunlight are often the causes of seasonal depression. Research on the condition found people with SAD may have reduced levels of serotonin, a brain chemical that helps regulate mood, and produce too much melatonin, a hormone critical to sleep-wake cycles. This imbalance disrupts normal daily rhythms and makes it harder to adjust to seasonal changes in day length.
“SAD is a type of depression that can greatly affect your quality of life and ability to function,” says Northwest Medical Group family medicine physician, Andrew House, M.D. “Since the seasons are predictable, there are lifestyle habits that can be adopted in advance of a seasonal change to help reduce symptoms or that can be implemented when they occur.”
Dr. House suggests these simple habits for reducing symptoms of SAD:
- Go outside: Continue enjoying activities outside during the day regardless of the season to increase your exposure to sunlight. Some people also benefit from using a light therapy box which can mimic sunlight inside.
- Get Vitamin D: Incorporate Vitamin D into your diet from sources other than sunlight such as a supplement or foods like salmon, egg yolks and mushrooms.
- Exercise: Regular exercise is proven to help reduce common symptoms of SAD, including anxiety and stress. And, just 2.5 hours of exercise each week can reduce the risk of chronic conditions like heart disease and high blood pressure.
- Socialize: People with SAD may not feel like engaging in social activities, but making an effort to spend time with family and friends - and even asking them for support - can help.
- Seek help: If lifestyle changes don’t help and symptoms persist, speak with a healthcare provider. Physicians and mental health professionals can assist in creating the right treatment plan for you.
“Hopefully adopting these lifestyle habits will help people combat seasonal depression,” says Dr. House. “But if their symptoms of moodiness, withdrawal or trouble concentrating persist, it’s important for them to seek help and speak with a healthcare professional.”
To learn more about Dr. House and Northwest Medical Group – Primary Care, visit NWMedicalGroup.com.