Seasonal affective disorder is not just another bad day.
On sunny days, we walk with a spring in our step, and we smile more easily. On drizzly days, our step feels heavy, and we can’t wait to watch TV from under a blanket. But imagine, those drizzly blahs degrade into a deep depression lasting through the dark, cold winter months. Maybe you don’t need to imagine—maybe you are one of the 14 million Americans whose intermittent depression follows a seasonal model.
Fairfax Mental Health psychiatrist Dr. Craig Krause completed his medical training in Michigan between 2001 and 2005, so he knows firsthand what short gray days and long dark nights are like for a person’s psyche. Practicing in Northern Virginia since 2011, Dr. Krause specializes in treating depression and bipolar disorder.
SAD usually first strikes “between Halloween and Thanksgiving,” says Dr. Krause. “SAD is a depression that tends to focus on a withdrawal, like a hibernation reflex. People feel a loss of motivation, almost like we’re storing up energy in the winter, and some people experience the feeling of leaden feeling limbs. We feel heavier and tend to crave more carbohydrates.”
Dr. Krause advises his patients to focus on phototherapy for a drug-free and inexpensive method to combat symptoms of SAD. Here are a few ways you can specifically let light help you through the grim winter months.
1. Leave the lights on. Although a hour outside in the winter sun equals two-and-a-half hours of artificial light, if you keep your lights on whenever you are home, your brain will benefit from all those hours of artificial light.
2. Phototherapy lamps. Spend 20-30 minutes in front of a phototherapy lamp in the early morning and late evening. Krause states: “Light therapy usually triggers an antidepressant response within two to three days. The biggest hindrance for people is they are usually so depressed they don’t want to leave their house to buy the light.”
3. Hit the tanning salon. “Wear googles and clothes in the tanning bed if you want to avoid the UV rays,” Krause advises. “You just need the visible light. People who do this three times a week feel wonderful.”
Other methods to combat SAD include:
4. Vitamin D supplements. Many medical professionals suggest a daily dose of vitamin D can supplement the loss of natural vitamin D your body enjoyed during the summer months.
5. Talk therapy. Communicating your feelings always helps improve your mood. Check out your local psychiatrists and psychologists who can empathize and provide coping mechanisms so you can deal with those often-lonely winter months in a healthy manner.