3 Ways to Prevent Seasonal Affective Disorder
The changing of the seasons brings cooler temperatures and shorter days. For many people, fall and winter also triggers depression. It may help to know you're not alone and the blues are not all in your head. You probably suffer from a type of depression known as Seasonal Affective Disorder, appropriately called SAD. Seasonal Affective Disorder occurs when we have less natural sunlight, due to the late mornings and early evenings, knocking our body's daily rhythms out of sync with the sun.
The pineal gland, located in the middle of the brain, responds to darkness by secreting a hormone called melatonin, which resets the brain's central clock. If you travel a lot, you may take melatonin to help you sleep on overnight flights and minimize jet lag when you arrive at your destination. Our body increases production of melatonin in the dark, which may cause symptoms of depression.
Fortunately, you can stop SAD from disrupting your life.
The first line of treatment for SAD is light therapy. About half of SAD patients treated with light therapy improve. Light is an effective antidepressant. It acts on the same neurotransmitters and brain structures as antidepressant medications, and suppresses secretion of melatonin. Standard light therapy is usually 30 minutes of 10,000-lux diffused, white fluorescent light early in the morning. Light boxes emit full-spectrum rays to mimic the sun. You should begin light therapy before the onset of symptoms.
In one study, researchers gave patients low doses of melatonin in the afternoon and exposed them to bright light in the morning. The closer the timing of melatonin brought patients' body rhythms towards normal, the higher they scored on mood scales. Melatonin is a physiological marker that correlates with symptom severity before and during treatment.
Get outside during the day. Walking an hour in the winter sunlight is as effective as two and a half hours under bright artificial light.
If SAD symptoms persist, see your physician. He or she may prescribe short-term antidepressants or psychotherapy. Cognitive Behavioral Therapy, especially when tailored specifically to seasonal affective disorder, is effective for many patients.
If you've suffered from regular symptoms of depression during fall and winter months for at least the last two years, and your depression goes into remission in the spring and summer, you probably have SAD. Take steps to stop SAD before you experience symptoms. Don't wait until you are in the throes of depression.
National Institutes of Health. National Institute of Mental Health. "Properly Timed Light, Melatonin Lift Winter Depression by Syncing Rhythms." Web. 1 May 2006.
Lewy, A.J., Lefler, B.J., Emens, J.S., and Bauer, V.K. "The circadian basis of winter depression." Proceedings of the National Academy of Science 103(19) (2006): 7414-9. Web.
National Institutes of Health. National Institutes of Mental Health. "What are the different forms of depression?" Web. 12 August 2009.
National Institutes of Health. National Institutes of Mental Health. "Psychotherapies." Web. 16 August 2010.
"What is Seasonal Affective Disorder? What Is SAD?" Medical News Today. Web. 5 Jul 2004.
"Coping with Winter Depression:Tips for Managing Seasonal Affective Disorder." Psychorg press release. Web. 23 November 2004.
DeAngelis, Tori. "Promising new treatments for SAD." Monitor 37 (2) (2006): 18. Web.
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