How Is Sad Diagnosed
Depression often happens with other conditions, such as heart disease or cancer. It may also happen with other mood disorders, such as substance abuse or anxiety. For these reasons, early diagnosis and treatment is key to recovery.
A diagnosis of SAD may be made after a careful mental health exam and medical history done by a psychiatrist or other mental health professional.
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Tips For Overcoming Seasonal Affective Disorder
People may joke about getting the winter blues, but the phenomenon of feeling sad, anxious, or tired during the winter months has a medically recognized name: seasonal affective disorder .
SAD is a type of depression that follows a seasonal pattern. The most essential feature of this disorder is that the depressive symptoms occur at a certain time of year. Most often, it strikes during the winter months, when there’s less sunlight and temperatures are colder, keeping people indoors more often.
To receive the official diagnosis, the onset and remission of the depression have to be seasonal, and depressive episodes during that season have to outnumber nonseasonal episodes. Some of the most common symptoms include:
- Low energy
- Feeling anxious, sluggish, or depressed
- Weight gain
- Craving carbohydrates
SAD can disrupt your normal routine. Symptoms may last only a few months, but that might be all it takes to harm relationships, your career, or other aspects of life.
Luckily, there are some steps you can take to manage your symptoms and find the mental relief you need to make it through the dreary winter months. Here are a few proven methods for combating SAD.
Don’t let the winter blues get you down this season. With these tips, you or your loved ones will be on their way to overcoming SAD and enjoying life no matter how dark or cold it might be outside.
Tips To Manage Seasonal Affective Disorder
Experience as much daylight as possible. The lack of sun exposure is part of what causes SAD and soaking up as much as you can, can lessen your symptoms. Sit by a window or get out for a walk during daylight hours. You could even take up a winter sport to get you outside and keep you moving.
Eat healthily. Comfort foods dont have to be loaded with extra calories and lots of sugar and fat. Get creative and look for hearty, low-calorie recipes that are easy to prepare. Instead of eating cake and cookies, try making a dessert from seasonal fruits like apples and pears.
Spend time with your friends and family. Spending time with your friends and family is a great way to lift your spirits and avoid social isolation. Snuggle with your kids or pets; visit with your friends while drinking a hot cup of tea or play board games with your family. Friends and family can be good to talk to about how the season is affecting you. Take the time to educate them about SAD so they can better understand your situation.
Stay active. Dont stay cooped up in your house all winter. Get out and enjoy your community this season. Volunteer, join a local club, go for a walk, or go ice skating with your loved ones to start. Also, if you know you experience SAD year after year, be proactive about planning out a schedule in advance of winter to keep active and engaged with others. Research shows exercise and scheduling pleasant activities can be effective ways to lessen the impact of SAD.
Can Sad Be Prevented
Because the timing of the onset of winter pattern-SAD is so predictable, people with a history of SAD might benefit from starting the treatments mentioned above before the fall to help prevent or reduce the depression. To date, very few studies have investigated this question, and existing studies have found no convincing evidence that starting light therapy or psychotherapy ahead of time could prevent the onset of depression. Only preventive treatment with the antidepressant bupropion prevented SAD in study participants, but it also had a higher risk of side effects. Therefore, people with SAD should discuss with their health care providers if they want to initiate treatment early to prevent depressive episodes.
If Youre Up For Exercise Consider A Walk Around The Block
On days when you feel as if you cant get out of bed, exercise may seem like the last thing youd want to do. However, exercise and physical activity can be powerful depression fighters.
If youre able to, take a walk around the block. Start with a five-minute walk and work your way up from there.
Sleep disturbances are common with depression. You may not sleep well, or you may sleep too much. Both can make depression symptoms worse.
Aim for eight hours of sleep per night. Try to get into a healthy sleeping routine.
Craving For Carbohydrates And Weight Gain
This illness is more commonly seen in people who live in cloudy regions or at high latitudes , says Drerup.
In addition to climate, youre much more likely to have seasonal affective disorder if youre a woman. The National Institute of Mental Health reports that women are four times more likely than men to be diagnosed with seasonal depression. So, if youre a woman living in the Pacific Northwest who feels poorly every winter, SAD could very well be the cause.
Light Therapy Can Help You Avoid Seasonal Affective Disorder
Winter does not officially begin until Dec. 21, but as the days grow shorter and sunlight exposure becomes scarcer, seasonal affective disorder becomes more common. SAD is a type of depression that occurs during the late fall and early winter and often ends by spring or early summer. The exact cause of SAD is unknown, but research points to lack of light as the main contributor.
“SAD is not a minor condition, but because people typically experience it only during certain months, they don’t see it as a serious issue. However, it is imperative to treat,” says Dr. Paolo Cassano, a psychiatrist who specializes in low-level light therapy at Harvard-affiliated Massachusetts General Hospital.
What Type Of Antidepressants Can Help With Seasonal Affective Disorder
Medications called selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors can treat SAD. They improve mood by regulating serotonin levels in your body.
Another approved antidepressant called bupropion comes as an extended-release tablet. It can prevent seasonal depression episodes when people take it daily from fall to early spring.
What Are The Signs & Symptoms Of Sad
As with other kinds of depression, a person with SAD may notice any or all of these:
- Changes in mood. SAD can cause a mood thats sad, depressed, or irritable. SAD can make people feel hopeless, discouraged, or worthless. They may cry or get upset more easily.
- Negative thinking. A person can become more self-critical, or more sensitive to criticism. They may complain, blame, find fault, or see problems more often than usual.
- Lack of enjoyment. People with SAD may lose interest in things they normally like to do. They may lose interest in friends and stop participating in social activities.
- Low energy. People may feel tired, low on energy, or lack motivation to do things. To them, everything can seem like it takes too much effort.
- Changes in sleep. A person may sleep much more than usual. They may find it especially hard to get up and ready for school or work in early morning hours.
- Changes in eating. SAD may bring on cravings for simple carbohydrates and the tendency to overeat. Because of this change in eating, SAD can result in weight gain during the winter months.
- Trouble concentrating. Like any depression, SAD can make it hard to focus. This can affect schoolwork and grades.
With SAD, a person notices these changes only during the time of year when there are fewer hours of daylight. As the season changes and days become longer again, their depression gets better and their usual energy returns.
Know That Today Isnt Indicative Of Tomorrow
Todays mood, emotions, or thoughts dont belong to tomorrow.
If you were unsuccessful at getting out of bed or accomplishing your goals today, remember that you havent lost tomorrows opportunity to try again.
Give yourself the grace to accept that while some days will be difficult, some days will also be great. Try to look forward to tomorrows fresh start.
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Counselling And Psychodynamic Psychotherapy
Counselling is another type of talking therapy that involves talking to a trained counsellor about your worries and problems.
During psychodynamic psychotherapy you discuss how you feel about yourself and others and talk about experiences in your past. The aim of the sessions is to find out whether anything in your past is affecting how you feel today.
It’s not clear exactly how effective these 2 therapies are in treating depression.
Clinical Contributors To This Story
Kristen Clark, M.D. contributes to topics such as Behavioral Health .
In the winter, you may be more vulnerable to the winter blues a drop in mood that occurs during the chilly months, or seasonal affective disorder , a form of depression that happens during months with less daylight and goes away in the warmer, sunnier months.
As we enter the winter of 2020, you may be even more prone to depression and other mental health conditions with the added daily stresses of a global pandemic.
The hallmarks of winter the darkness and cold temperatures may make it harder for people to cope with pandemic life, says Kristen Clark M.D., medical director of adult outpatient behavioral health at Jersey Shore University Medical Center. There are less safe options to socialize with family or friends, since physical distancing outside is likely not an option. Some people feel that their circumstances are more hopeless when its cold and dark and theyre feeling lonely and isolated, so this shouldnt be taken lightly.
Are There Clinical Trials Studying Sad
NIMH supports a wide range of research, including clinical trials that look at new ways to prevent, detect, or treat diseases and conditionsincluding SAD. Although individuals may benefit from being part of a clinical trial, participants should be aware that the primary purpose of a clinical trial is to gain new scientific knowledge so that others may be better helped in the future.
Researchers at NIMH and around the country conduct clinical trials with patients and healthy volunteers. Talk to your health care provider about clinical trials, their benefits and risks, and whether one is right for you. For more information about clinical research and how to find clinical trials being conducted around the country, visit the NIMH Clinical Trials page.
Can I Prevent Seasonal Affective Disorder
You may not be able to prevent the first episode of SAD. But once your provider has diagnosed you with seasonal depression, you can take steps to help keep it from coming back:
- Use your light box: Start using light therapy at the beginning of fall, before you feel SAD symptoms.
- Get out: Spend time outside every day, even if its cloudy. Daylight can help you feel better.
- Eat a well-balanced diet: Even though your body may crave starchy and sweet foods, stick to nutritious choices. A healthy diet with enough vitamins and minerals can give you the energy you need.
- Exercise: Try to get 30 minutes of exercise, three times a week.
- See friends: Stay involved with your social circle and regular activities. They can provide support during the winter months.
- Find help: Consider seeing a mental health professional whos trained in CBT. This treatment can be very effective for seasonal affective disorder.
- Consider medications: Talk to your healthcare provider about taking an antidepressant. Medications can help if your symptoms are severe or if they continue after other treatments. In some cases, taking the medication before SAD begins can prevent episodes.
Talk to your healthcare provider to find out if starting treatment early, as a preventive measure, is right for you.
Steps You Can Take Today To Manage Your Seasonal Depression
Feelings of fatigue, depression, social withdrawal, and mood swings are all indicators that you may be experiencing seasonal affective disorder . SAD is a type of depression that typically affects people during the fall and winter months and occurs when your circadian rhythm is thrown off by dreary weather.
Although SAD can impact everyone differently, we’ve rounded up tips on how to improve your overall mood if you are experiencing SAD. These are general tips and you may find that some don’t work for you, and that’s OK. In the event that this expert advice doesn’t work or you think you may need additional help, we recommend reaching out to a licensed professional such as your doctor or a mental health expert like a psychologist who can help you manage SAD.
Additional reporting by Tamara Pridgett
Dont Be Judgmental And Criticize
Everyone experiences SAD differently, and if you have a milder case of the winter blues while your partner is experiencing the disorder to the nth degree, you dont want to invalidate their experience by assuming that youre both dealing with the same issues. Avoid judgmental statements like This pandemic is hard on everyone. I get myself out of bed even though I dont feel like doing it, so why cant you? which can create a toxic situation for couples.
It may be helpful to think back to a time when you were feeling weak, tired and out of sorts. Try to tap into wellsprings of empathy within yourself. Thats often helpful in order to not judge, says Dr. Norman Rosenthal, the clinical professor of psychiatry at Georgetown University School of Medicine who gave Seasonal Affective Disorder its name in the 1980s.
Asking your significant other How can I help you? is a great place to start, although the person with SAD might not always have an answer. Still, when the person with SAD is expressing themselves, its important that the other partner be an active listener without trying to give advice or solve the problem.
Assess The Parts Instead Of Generalizing The Whole
Depression can tinge recollections with negative emotions. You may find yourself focusing on the one thing that went wrong instead of the many things that went right.
Try to stop this overgeneralization. Push yourself to recognize the good. If it helps, write down what was happy about the event or day. Then write down what went wrong.
Seeing the weight youre giving to one thing may help you direct your thoughts away from the whole and to the individual pieces that were positive.
Mind Over Weather: Making The Most Of Winter
A Scandinavian proverb advises, Theres no such thing as bad weather, only inappropriate clothing. In other words, proper preparation and a can-do attitude have a huge impact on our experience of winter.
Scott P. first noticed his seasonal mood pattern in his late teens, when the New Jersey native started college in Syracuse, New York, where the winters are bleak. In October, Id start to crave different foods, sleep more, put on weight and get the sads, he says. He credits lifestyle adjustments with turning things around. Over time, the extremes have moved toward the center. Daily exercise and keeping social as well as midwinter vacations south all help my mental outlook.
So this winter, keep in mind what you love about the season a steaming cup of cocoa, sledding with the kids, the aroma of pine wreaths. A warm heart is a powerful antidote to the cold.
Best Ways To Fight Seasonal Depression
It’s time to let some light in.
When you feel down in the dark and cold winter months, people typically chalk it up to the “winter blues,” but it’s much more than that. Around five percent of U.S. adults experience seasonal affective disorder which involves a shift that’s similar to depression with symptoms ranging from feeling sad to a change in appetite and energy levelsfor up to 40 percent of the year. And if you’re wondering how to fight seasonal depression, we’ve got you covered.
While you might not be able to change the weather and bring the sun out from underneath the shadows, you’ll definitely want to read the following tips for how to fight seasonal depression. And if you’re in the market for a surefire instant mood booster? Know that Saying This One Word Will Boost Your Mood By 25 Percent.
Listen To Uplifting Music
This is definitely one of the simplest ways to attack your seasonal depression. Put on some tunes that cannot make you sad. Similar to meditation, let the song take you away with it. Allow the music to take control over you. It may be helpful to play an uplifting playlist at the beginning of every day or anytime you catch yourself being lazy or depressed.
Swap Pasta For Rice At Dinner
Since the evening is usually the time when the symptoms of SAD are at their strongest, it could also be helpful to make dinner your main carbohydrate-containing meal. Nutritionist Mira Dessy suggests eating healthier complex carbs such as lentils, brown rice and potatoes. These will help fight the urge to snack on unhealthy carbs that will cause momentary relief, but ultimately decrease energy.
Try An Exercise Program
Most people naturally spend less time outside and, as a result, decrease their physical activity in the winter . But if you think you may have SAD, pushing yourself to exercise is a good way to combat it, says psychologist Scott Bea, PsyD.
Moving your body will compete with that tendency to be sluggish and can produce good brain chemistry, he says.
When Should You Seek Help For Seasonal Depression
If you think you have symptoms of seasonal depression, see your doctor for a thorough examination to make sure that these symptoms are not caused by another psychiatric condition or major medical illness, says Drerup. Your physician can help you choose the right treatment.
Theres no shame in seeing a doctor for seasonal affective disorder. If your symptoms recur, its better to see a doctor and find a treatment that works for you than to suffer every winter. After your SAD diagnosis, you can decide if therapy, medication, or a bright, bright light work best for you. Either way, winter may not be a wonderland, but it doesnt have to be a nightmare.
Try these tips to help a friend with depression.
How To Help A Friend: Seasonal Affective Disorder
Welcome to the fourth issue of How to Help a Friend . HHF aims to provide students with information and resources on a variety of mental health topics, and to interact with and support the CU-Boulder community through monthly events and articles in CU-Boulder Today.
As we embark on another semester, I wanted to address something relevant to the winter months that frequently has some misconceptions surrounding it: Seasonal Affective Disorder . The most common misconception about SAD is that its just the winter blues, people feeling bummed because of the weather; however, SAD is much more than that. People with SAD suffer from a seasonal pattern of depression, meaning that they experience depression at a particular time of the year, but are otherwise symptom free for the rest of the year.
Symptoms can include but are not limited to:
- Difficulty concentrating
- Lack of interest in normal activities
- Weight gain or loss
- Increased sleep
- Sluggish movements
Winter-onset SAD is thought be to be linked to the shorter daylight hours, as well as darker days, while summer-onset SAD is linked to longer daylight hours and brighter days. Our bodies respond to sunlight by changing hormonal and neurotransmitter levels and so these seasonal changes can lead to chemical imbalances. As such, treatment of winter-onset SAD is often centered on increasing exposure to sunlight including:
Remind Yourself Of Brighter Days
The good thing is that winter isnt forever and, the moment spring returns, SAD symptoms will begin to fade. The Royal College of Psychiatrists suggests that mild SAD sufferers should remind themselves of the temporary nature of the condition, as well as any other forthcoming plans that might cheer you up.
Please be aware that this article was originally published in January 2017, but has been updated throughout to include new information
Small Steps Big Impact
Depression can drain your energy, leaving you feeling empty and fatigued. This can make it difficult to muster the strength or desire to seek treatment.
However, there are small steps you can take to help you feel more in control and improve your overall sense of well-being.
Read on to learn how to incorporate these strategies in a way that makes sense for you.
What You Eat And Drink Can Also Affect How You Feel
Theres no magic diet that will treat depression. But what you put into your body can have a real and significant impact on the way you feel.
Eating a diet rich in lean meats, vegetables, and grains may be a great place to start. Try to limit stimulants like caffeine, coffee, and soda, and depressants like alcohol.
Some people also and have more energy when they avoid sugar, preservatives, and processed foods.
If you have the means, consider meeting with a doctor or registered dietitian for guidance.