Advise Me

Coping With Seasonal Affective Disorder

Winter is quickly approaching. You may be noticing that it feels a little colder when you walk to your car in the morning, it is a little darker when you leave work and it seems like the perfect time to curl up with a blanket and some hot chocolate when you get home. Although the winter months can be much anticipated for some, for others, this time of year brings about seasonal depression, also known as seasonal affective disorder (SAD).

SAD typically happens at the same time every year. For most, it begins in late fall and continues through the winter. Since some may be beginning to feel symptoms of SAD, we asked Dr. Gagandeep Singh , psychiatrist at Banner Behavioral Health Hospital, for some advice on how to cope.

Light therapy

Dr. Singh explained that lightboxes are proven to work for treating SAD. It’s important to have full spectrum light at the right intensity of 10,000 lux. For best results, use the light for half an hour each morning. You do not need to look at the light directly, but your eyes do need to be open for the treatment to be effective.

If you live in a state, such as Arizona, that is blessed with sunshine most of the year, Dr. Singh advises replacing time with the lightbox with time in the sun. The sun is the best light source, so spending half an hour outside in the sun is an excellent option.

As a reminder, it is important to make sure you stay hydrated when spending time in the sun or when using a lightbox. People with bipolar disorder, skin conditions or diabetes should be sure to speak with their doctors prior to using light therapy.

Seeing a professional

You may be asking yourself, when is it time to seek treatment from a behavioral health professional? Furthermore, what else can they do to help?

Dr. Singh explains that if the sadness is impairing one’s ability to function or one is feeling suicidal or agitated, they should seek help from their physician or a behavioral health professional. A behavioral health professional or physician can help do a thorough assessment and diagnosis. If the depressive symptoms are occurring during other months of the year, not just the ones with shorter days, this may not be seasonal affective disorder. Once assessed, a professional can then recommend self-care, psychotherapy or medications for help.

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