It's October, and we're entering the fall season; a season of change. In many ways, these are good changes: return to school or regular routines, cool crisp air, and colorful fall leaves. But for many, the fall season ushers in a time of sadness and struggles. The weather is colder, the days are shorter, and life can feel more bleak. Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD) can drain the color from fall, and make the winter feel grim.
Approximately 4 to 6 percent of the population are affected with SAD, while about 10 to 20 percent suffer a milder form of this disorder. Symptoms typically start in September or October. SAD affects women about 4 times more than men. It's important to recognize the symptoms of SAD early, so that you can get treatment and relief. Some changes to look for are:
- Depressed mood and/or irritability
- Fatigue, low energy
- Increased sleep
- Avoidance of social situations
- Changes in appetite; specificallycravings for sweet, starchy foods
If you start noticing these signs in yourself or someone you're close to, here are some things that can help:
Light Therapy- SAD is thought to be connected to decreased exposure to sunlight. Your doctor may prescribe a light box for you to increase your exposure to light. These light boxes emit light with a frequency spectrum that mimics sunlight, therefore replacing the sunlight lost to shorter winter days. To learn more about how light boxes can help treat SAD, click http://www.mayoclinic.com/health/seasonal-affective-disorder-treatment/DN00013.
Increased exercise- Exercise treats depression by many different mechanisms. The endogenous endorphins that are released in our brains as a result of exercise are a natural mood booster, and can last up to several hours after an exercise session. This is what's often referred to as “runner's high”, but can be achieved through any strenuous exercise. Exercise can increase our sense of accomplishment and self-confidence, and also curb cravings for sweet or fatty foods. Group exercises can decrease our sense of loneliness and isolation. As the days get colder and shorter, we are often less active. So it becomes increasingly important to seek out opportunities to exercise despite the outside conditions. Some ideas may be: rent an exercise DVD from your local library, climb a few flights of stairs during lunch breaks, join a fitness center (many have deals onmemberships this time of year), or get together with a friend to take a bike ride or do an exercise class.
Eat healthy, mood-boosting foods- Making different choices in terms of what and how we eat can make a difference in our moods. Don't go too long between meals or snacks-no more than 3-4 hours. Hunger can increase irritability and fatigue. Try to avoid sweet, starchy foods. Although we may crave them at this time of year (and many holiday menus abound with them!), these types of foods actually lead to a quick crash in mood and energy. Replace these traditional 'comfort' foods with foods that will satisfy your cravings and nourish your body: fruits (including dried fruits like raisins and apricots); whole grain products such as whole wheat breads, cereals, and pastas; lean proteins; and nuts. Be aware of your Vitamin B intake. Low levels of B vitamins such as folic acid and B-12 can trigger depression. To get more, take a B-complex vitamin supplement or eat more citrus fruit, leafy greens, beans, chicken, and eggs. For more information on foods that can increase your mood, click www.webmd.com/depression/guide/diet-recovery.
Counseling or Psychotherapy- If you feel you may be suffering from SAD, there is help available. Talking with a counselor or therapist can help reduce feelings of depression and isolation, and can help you develop a plan for recovery. It can be hard to break out of sadness and depression on your own; it can be even harder to know how to change. Everyone needs a guide during darker times; someone who can offer comfort and encouragement as well as direction. Often, those suffering with SAD may find other areas of their lives deteriorating due to their low mood and fatigue; areas such as relationships and career. Working with a counselor or therapist can help repair the damage left by an episode of SAD. To learn more about finding a counselor or therapist, click http://therapists.psychologytoday.com/rms/. To contact me to inquire about therapy click michelemoriarity.webs.com, and go to my 'Contact Michele' page.
There is much to enjoy in this season of change. You don't have to suffer through the symptoms of SAD. Whether it's through light therapy, self-care, psychotherapy, or a combination of these, there is help!