By Elizabeth Spekhardt
When most people think of Autumn, they associate the time of year with Halloween, cozying up in warm blankets with cups of cider and hot chocolate, corn mazes, and haunted houses. However, as the weather gradually changes and daylight becomes more scarce, ten million Amaericans prepare for an annual journey that has been dreaded since the Spring. Instead of filling their calendar with fall festivities, they stock up on Tylenol for unbearable headaches, cancel weekend plans due to social withdrawal, and fight sluggishness, mood swings, weight gain, staying up all night and sleeping all day, and general discontent. These are the gloomy effects of S.A.D., or Seasonal Affective Disorder. S.A.D. is a mood disorder that occurs during the fall and winter months of the year, typically lasting about 4-5 months and often affects those living in places with long winters.
Taking on symptoms of S.A.D. can feel eternal, and you may feel as though you can do nothing but try to withstand the effects with antidepressants until the days start to feel longer and the weather gets warmer. For those who avoid taking prescribed medication, or need some assistance in addition to medication, there are various practices that help alleviate symptoms.
Light therapy was invented in the late 1800s/early 1900s when inventors discovered that light exposure could be used as a treatment for tuberculosis or skin conditions such as lupus or eczema. It was not until the 1980s that a South African doctor used light exposure to alleviate his mood after he was feeling depressed at the arrival of autumn and felt an extreme improvement in mood in the early spring.
How it works:
Light therapy, or phototherapy, is a common treatment for S.A.D. The practice is utilized by light boxes that target brain chemicals that are connected to mood and sleep. It is important to position your light box at a certain distance where you can avoid side effects such as nausea, headaches, eyestrain, irritability, and manic symptoms associated with bipolar disorder. You can discuss the duration of light treatment with your doctor depending on the severity and timing of your symptoms.
- Exposure to artificial light during shortened periods of daylight can "convince" your brain that the days you're experiencing are longer than they appear to be.
- Enhanced mood
- More energy
- Better sleep
- Improved focus
Psychotherapy- Cognitive Behavioral Therapy
While psychotherapy, or talk therapy, might be the last thing in the world you'd want to do, discussing your SAD symptoms with a psychotherapist could help you identify methods and practices to help ease them. Many people have found lasting advice and solutions to S.A.D. symptoms, and general depression, while speaking with a psychotherapist. CBT has been shown in studies to be just as effective as antidepressant medication for treatment of clinical depression.
- Learning healthy coping mechanisms that can become readily available to you during more difficult times in the season
- Identifying and finding solutions to change avoidance behavior
- Recognizing cyclical thought patterns during S.A.D. and how to resort to healthier ones
Also known as "The Sunshine Vitamin" vitamin D is a nutrient that helps with bone and cell growth while benefiting functions of the immune system. Coincidentally, your body absorbs vitamin D through sun exposure. Vitamin D deficiency occurs when your body does not absorb the recommended levels of the nutrient. There are also significant studies that show a correlation between people with low vitamin D who were at a much greater risk of depression.
How to boost your vitamin D levels:
- Spend more time in sunlight. Try one of these UV lamps
- Add more egg yolk in your diet
- Red meat
- Oily fish (i.e. salmon)
- Mushrooms (122% DV in portabella, 98% maitakes, 92% white button, 17% morels)
- Fortified milk (29% DV in low-fat, 17% dehydrated, 16% buttermilk)
Whichever method you may choose, know that none of them will fully cure the disorder. It is important to be mindful of your body and what it needs, and to not punish it for displaying symptoms resembling SAD. If you live in a region with long and cold winters, it is highly encouraged that you reach out to those who live near you. Chances are, they are struggling with the same disorder. Studies have shown that there have been correlations in regional latitude and the amount of people suffering from SAD in a particular region. Borrow inspiration and practices from others, and create a normalized community and culture where a comfortable space is encouraged for those fending off symptoms.