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Finding Hope: How to treat seasonal affective disorder

Finding Hope: How to treat seasonal affective disorder
Posted at 10:18 AM, Jan 02, 2020
and last updated 2020-01-02 12:18:26-05

January... the holidays are over, and in the midst of winter, the days are shorter and darker.

Seasonal affective disorder can take your energy away. It's a type of depression related to the changing seasons.

"It's hard because a lot of times you wake up in the morning and it's dark, you come home in the afternoon and it's still dark, and then in between it's kind of gloomy and gray a lot of times," said Dr. Megan Feng, a primary care physician.

The decrease in sunlight can disrupt your biological clock, or circadian rhythm. It can also cause a drop in serotonin, a brain chemical that affects mood, and your melatonin levels, which play a role in sleep patterns and mood.

So what can you do? Doctors say get outside! Take a walk, or eat lunch at the park. Even on a cold or cloudy day, that light is good for you.

"Things like sleep, things like physical activity, making sure that you're eating healthy foods, trying to keep up with some social activities and having that interaction with people. None of these things are medications, but can also really affect your mood and are all different tools you should consider when trying to treat anxiety and depression," Dr. Feng added.

Doctors say light therapy is another thing that might help. Try using a happy light for 20 to 30 minutes a day.

"Light therapy is something that people use to try to re-regulate your body's sleep wake cycle and getting that stimulus of bright light in the morning can kind of help reset a little bit of that which helps to improve your mood," explained Dr. Feng.

Open your blinds, and sit closer to the window at home or the office. You might consider taking a vitamin d supplement too. And think to the future! Having fun plans to look forward to can be encouraging.

"I've heard many patients kind of say in the winter months, they try to schedule a vacation to go somewhere sunnier or take a couple days off," Dr. Feng said.

Seasonal affective disorder impacts more women than men. The farther you live from the equator makes a difference too. Here in the Northwest we are more at risk because we aren't getting as much sunlight as those in the South.

If you are feeling signs of depression, talk to your doctor. If your symptoms are severe, medication like antidepressants may help.

Seasonal affective disorder also impacts a smaller number of people with an opposite pattern in the summer months.