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Seasonal Affective Disorder and Your Mental Health: Tips for Coping

Posted by Brian Spence on Dec 22, 2014 8:00:00 AM

Seasonal Affective Disorder, Mental Health, Behavioral HealthAs the days get shorter and the weather gets colder, many Americans find themselves feeling blue. In fact, 10 to 20 percent of Americans report feeling a bit more tired, sad, and unmotivated during the winter months. Additionally, 2 percent of adults suffer from Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD), a mental health condition characterized by fatigue, overeating, and a loss of interest in daily activities.

Gender and genetics both seem to play a role in the development of SAD, with women who have a family history of mood disorders being the most likely to present with symptoms. It seems that a drop in serotonin, a neurotransmitter responsible for mood, is the culprit behind Seasonal Affective Disorder.

Whether you find yourself dealing with the winter blues or think you might be suffering from SAD, below are some tips for coping during the dark, cold months ahead:

  • Don't neglect your social calendar. When it's cold outside, it's easy to choose staying indoors snuggled under a blanket over going out to the movies with friends. However, maintaining your social activities is an important part of coping with SAD. Getting out and enjoying the company of others can help you avoid feelings of isolation.

  • Stay active. Many Americans overeat during the winter months-- a combination of the holidays and being cooped up inside makes it easy to do. Along with overeating, most also admit to neglecting their exercise regimen during the winter months. However, staying physically active is important to boost your endorphins and put you in a feel-good mood. So, bundle up and head outside for a jog. Or, if you'd prefer to stay warm, head to the local gym.

  • Try light therapy. Light boxes are an effective option for many sufferers of SAD. These boxes emit light that help to wake the body up and reduce the level of melatonin present, thereby providing a boost in mood. Light therapy should be used under the supervision of a professional, however, as it often takes some trial and error as far as timing and positioning are concerned.

  • Head outdoors. Yes, it's cold, but it's still important to get outside for a little while each day. Bundle up and take a walk on your lunch break or take your dog for a quick walk around the block at the end of the day. Breathing in fresh air and exposing yourself to sunlight help relieve stress and lift your spirits.

  • Stick to your routine. During the winter months, it's easy to deviate from routine. Many SAD sufferers elect to stay indoors in sweatpants instead of getting dressed and running errands. Try to stick to your regular schedule as much as possible-- even when it's dark and cold. Doing so will help you feel productive and accomplished.

For more information about how Seasonal Affective Disorder or other topics which can iimpact your outlook, visit the Mental Health section of our blog.

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