Seasonal Affective Disorder: Stay Cheery This Holiday Season and Light Up Your Life

You might’ve noticed but something is afoot: the air is crisper; the trees a little bare and the sun doesn’t shine as it used too. It’s that time of the year again – winter is soon around the corner.

And while it’s a time for celebration, from winter sports, to family time and social occasions, you might find that your energy is waning and your holiday cheer isn’t in full festive force.

You’re not alone: it’s estimated that 4-6% of people feel this way during the winter. The culprit? Seasonal Affective Disorder (or SAD for short) is a form of depression tied to environmental changes, most often related to the arrival of the fall or winter. SAD can be a depressive disorder on its own or it can also exacerbate pre-existing depression or other mood disorders.

If you’re a woman, you’re also much more likely to experience SAD: four out of five people who experience it are female. You’re also much more likely to experience SAD if you’re between the ages of 20 to 30. Researchers aren’t exactly sure why those of advanced age are at less risk.

While the exact mechanism behind SAD isn’t entirely understood, there is a consensus that reduced sunlight is part of the reason why this happens. For one, serotonin – a mood regulating chemical that the human body produces – is produced in greater quantities when sunshine is more plentiful.

Melatonin is also understood to be play a prominent role in SAD’s development. With the shorter period of daylight, our circadian rhythm (think of it is as the body’s internal clock) is disrupted and the body overproduces melatonin, a naturally occurring hormone that helps us sleep; explaining why SAD can make you feel lethargic.

For these reasons, one of the most popular treatments for SAD are light therapy lamps, designed to replicate sunlight by producing a very bright light that can “trick” your body into optimizing its serotonin and melatonin production. The experts typically recommend a 10,000-lux light box with 30 minutes of exposure upon waking to start your day off right.

It’s also important to note that you need to have your eyes open while using a SAD lamp, otherwise it won’t be effective. However, due to the potential for eye damage from staring directly into the bright light, you should position the light above you or off to the side. Try reading a book or doing some journaling while using the light to make the most off your time.

Just like any mood disorder, SAD’s severity can differ significantly from person to person and light therapy may not be effective enough on its own to help you handle the winter blues. Talk to your doctor about medical treatments for SAD, including antidepressants; especially if you’re experiencing significant disruption in your day-to-day life.

In previous blogposts, we’ve already shared the benefits of exercise for regulating mood as well the importance of a full night’s rest. These are both critical components to any self-directed approach to addressing SAD.

If you’re waiting for the sounds of spring on a cold morning as an indication that your gloom may soon be gone, try giving these SAD treatments a try and you might find yourself merrier and full of holiday cheer.

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