When it’s cold and drab outside, some people start feeling bad inside. This could be a sign of Seasonal Affective Disorder—or SAD. SAD is a mood disorder common during the winter months. In addition to feeling depressed, people experiencing SAD often feel sleepy during the daytime. Their appetites increase and they crave carbohydrates. They tend to gain weight in the winter and lose energy.
If you have some of these symptoms without any major mood changes, you may have a milder form of SAD called the “winter blues.”
UR Medicine Psychiatrist Dr. Justin Van der Meid offers five tips for coping with SAD.
1. Seek natural light. Get as much natural light as possible. Take a walk around the neighborhood when you wake up. Find a winter sport you can do outside. Sit near windows when you’re home, at the office, in class, or even out to lunch.
2. Use artificial light. This could be as simple as putting a timer on your bedroom light, so it turns on before you wake. Start by setting it 30 minutes ahead of your alarm. If that doesn’t work, gradually increase it to an hour or more. Even though your eyelids are closed, this may help you feel better. You can also try a commercial light box. These seem to be most effective in the morning, but some studies show they can help no matter what time it is. Don’t stare at the light, but make sure it’s facing you while you read, write, watch TV, or eat. If you have an eye disease, such as glaucoma or cataracts, check with your ophthalmologist.
3. Get a good night’s sleep. Try to go to bed and wake up at the same time each day, even on weekends. A regular schedule is important.
4. Take a vacation. If you dread winter every time it rolls around, plan ahead and book a flight to Florida. People who live in sunny, warm climates are less likely to get SAD than people living in New York. Even a short break from winter weather may help.
5. Hormones or medication might help. Melatonin is sometimes prescribed to help boost the effectiveness of natural and artificial light therapies. Even low doses can significantly boost mood. It’s important to follow the schedule recommended by your doctor, or it can make it hard for your body to know when it’s time to sleep.
Antidepressants, often used with light therapies, might help. Prozac, Zoloft and Wellbutrin are among those found to be effective in combating SAD.
Ask for Help
If your symptoms are severe, don’t try to solve this on your own. See a doctor or mental health professional, especially if you have any thoughts of suicide.
Your primary care doctor is a good place to start. For help finding a provider, click here.
If you have suicidal thoughts, it is a medical emergency. Get help right away. In the Rochester area, contact the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 800-273-TALK (8255) or go straight to an emergency room.