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Winter is Coming: How to Manage Seasonal Affective Disorder

Winter is coming…winter is coming…

More like winter is here and with the advent of the winter season come all sorts of wonderful things. The beauty of newly fallen snow, sipping hot chocolate on a cold winter’s day; or even witnessing the smiles of children as they play in the snow on a long awaited snow day.  For others, the winter season brings on a host of not so “Norman Rockwell painting” feelings that are much more than the disdain for travelling in a nasty, slushy, wintery mix. I’m talking about Seasonal Affective Disorder, most commonly referred to as SAD. It is highlighted by the increase in depressive symptoms usually starting in the fall and continuing throughout the winter.  According to the National Institute of Mental Health, SAD is not a separate disorder from depression, but is a type of depression that has a recurring seasonal pattern.

The National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH), identified characteristics that put you at more risk for SAD including being female, living far from equator, family history of depression, having been diagnosed with depression or bipolar disorder, and being of a younger age. More recently, I’ve become more aware of my own emotional difficulties during the fall and winter months and realized I have checked off many of the above risk factors.  Given this information, I decided to do some research about ways to manage or improve one’s mood throughout the fall and winter season. While I am not completely adverse to medication as intervention because I recognize and have witnessed the transformation of others through the use of medication, I have committed myself to also finding alternative non medication ways to manage and improve mood.

Most identified treatments for SAD include psychiatric medication, light therapy (a light box that mimics natural light), and psychotherapy.  Additionally, I have found that meditation, guided imagery, and relaxation techniques such as deep breathing or an activity like yoga have been found to be successful in managing mood. Being the therapist that I am, I try not to provide an alternative recommendation that has been found to be successful if I have not tried myself. This has led me to interesting places with more than enough funny stories, however, I believe it has made me a better therapist to say: “This is proven to work most times with most people and it has worked for me.” I can unequivocally say that meditation, guided imagery and relaxation techniques do work.

Along with the above recommendations, exercise or any sort of physical movement can help to regulate neurotransmitters impacting and regulating mood.  I know what you’re thinking, when its -1000 degrees outside, how the heck am I supposed to get up at the crack of dawn to go to the gym and exercise. Even more so, when you are feeling down and depressed.   I never understood those people that go to the gym because they absolutely love going. In fact, I have never had the pleasure of meeting these people because for most people its work to get up and do something when you really don’t want to do it.  But, I have a trick. You don’t even have to leave the comfort of your own home to exercise or move. There are countless paid or free resources to use to get moving and regulate your emotions. All it takes is a Google or YouTube search and you are connected to a world of movement.

So if you are struggling with symptoms of SAD and need some help improving your mood, take heed to all resources at your fingertips.  Even if one proves unhelpful to you, there may be others out there that can help, you have to keep trying.

Reference:

Seasonal Affective Disorder. National Institute of Mental Health, Mar. 2016, www.nimh.nih.gov/health/topics/seasonal-affective-disorder/index.shtml.

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