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Five Ways to Tackle Seasonal Affective Disorder

Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD) is a form of depression that occurs in late fall and winter months and is thought to be caused by the brain’s lack of exposure to sunlight. The disorder affects more than 10 million Americans each year, with women four times as likely to suffer from SAD than men. 

Symptoms of SAD include lethargy, feelings of hopelessness or sadness, irritability, weight gain, oversleeping and avoidance of social activities. While severe SAD often requires anti-depressant medication, psychotherapy and, in 6% of cases, hospitalization, there are also steps patients can take on their own to help alleviate SAD symptoms. Here are five of the most effective ways to tackle SAD.

1) Use a lightbox

A lightbox can mimic the sunlight your body’s missing in the winter months. For the best effect, place a 10,000-lux light box approximately 16-24 inches from your face, and use it at least 20 minutes a day. Looking directly at the light provides a stronger effect than having it in your peripheral vision. When the light hits your retina directly, it simulates sunlight, lowering the melatonin levels that cause excessive sleeping, and activating neurotransmitters like serotonin that help boost your mood.

2) Get plenty of Vitamin D

Vitamin D is a hormone that’s produced when sunlight hits your skin. Since daylight is shorter in the winter months, and since people have less exposed skin in cold weather, it’s common for Vitamin D levels to dip. Symptoms of Vitamin D deficiency include depression and fatigue. To combat these symptoms, take a Vitamin D supplement or add more Vitamin D-rich foods to your diet (including fortified dairy products, tuna, salmon and egg yolks.) 

3) Take advantage of daylight hours

Since it gets dark early during the winter, it’s important to make the most of the daylight! Consider altering your daily routine so you can be outdoors when the sun is shining. By doing an outdoor workout during your lunch break, walking or biking to work, or taking your kids to the park instead of playing inside, you can increase your exposure to natural light, which helps alleviate SAD symptoms. 

4) Follow a sleep schedule

People affected by SAD often have difficulty waking up in the morning, and difficulty falling asleep at night because the low light of winter affects their melatonin levels. Because of the impact SAD has on sleep, it’s important to follow a set sleep schedule because it trains your brain to follow a healthy sleep-wake cycle.  

5) Plan a winter getaway

The majority of Americans take their vacation time in the summer months. But for people who suffer from SAD, it’s helpful to take a vacation to a sunny destination in the winter. A winter vacation helps alleviate SAD symptoms because natural sunlight and pleasurable experiences are effective mood-boosters!

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