Fall is here, and it’s time for those with seasonal affective disorder (SAD) to start putting together a management plan to tackle this issue. About 10 million people in America suffer from SAD, which is triggered by seasonal changes.
While it’s most common in seasons when it’s darker for longer, a smaller percentage of people are affected in the spring and summer seasons.
Many people refer to seasonal affective disorder as “the winter blues,” but it’s more serious than that. SAD is a type of seasonal depression as severe as major depressive disorder (MDD). SAD symptoms are largely the same as depression symptoms:
- Sleep disruptions
- Low mood
- Lack of pleasure or interest in activities
One difference between SAD and MDD is that you know when SAD is likely to come. That understanding can give you a leg up on being ready with a treatment plan (as opposed to MDD or bipolar disorder, where depressive episodes can come at any time).
If this pattern and these symptoms sound familiar to you, you’ll want to make an appointment with a psychiatrist to get a proper diagnosis of SAD. Then you can start exploring which treatment option(s) is best for you.
When you feel generally normal throughout the rest of the year but depressive during the winter months, it can be frustrating. But there are treatment options for tackling this issue, so you can stay on top of the warning signs and get through the season maintaining wellness:
Unique to SAD, light therapy is a first-line treatment. Light therapy’s aim is to mimic natural light, which you get less of during the darker seasons. It’s applied as a lightbox or visor for about an hour. The bright light should provide up to 10,000 lux and filter out as much UV light as possible because UV rays can damage your eyes.
Light therapy works by keeping your body’s hormones and the internal clock on schedule, in addition to normalizing melatonin levels. These help keep your circadian rhythms on track. All of this can help boost your mood. Many people see a relief of symptoms within one week.
You can purchase a lightbox without a prescription from your doctor, although you may want to talk to a health professional about how much you should use your lightbox in a day.
As with any mental health issue, talk therapy can be very helpful. By seeing a therapist, you can obtain coping skills that help you though the months where seasonal affective disorder creates symptoms. Cognitive-behavioral therapy can be especially helpful for dealing with SAD. Find a therapist who provides mental health strategies and tools to you; they can last a lifetime!
Transcranial magnetic stimulation (TMS) is a non-invasive, drug-free method of treating depression, from mild to severe cases. TMS works by stimulating pathways within your brain that become underactive when you have depression. This depression treatment is done on an outpatient basis by a psychiatrist, and it doesn’t have any of the side effects associated with antidepressants.
TMS can be especially helpful for people with SAD because a treatment schedule is typically five sessions per week for six weeks, then two to three weeks of tapering off.
Since you know when your depressive period is likely to start and end, you can schedule a round of TMS during that timeframe—or get a head start on it. One course of treatment could carry you through the season, without the downside of tapering off medication after it’s over.
When SAD is too severe for light and talk therapy to be fully effective, psychiatrists often recommend a course of antidepressants. If you suffered from MDD, you would find the right antidepressant for you and stay on it.
Because SAD comes and goes, it can be tricky to start the medication before your SAD kicks in and then taper off once your affective season is over. Adjusting to a medication takes time and can bring difficult side effects. Additionally, the idea of tapering off once your SAD season has passed is often easier said than done. SSRIs and other antidepressants are notoriously difficult to discontinue.
Attention to Your Overall Well-Being
Depression demands that you take care of yourself, even if you don’t feel like it. Eating healthy foods and avoiding fats and sugar can help you maintain your energy. Exercising regularly, even if it’s just a 30-minute walk on the treadmill or a couple of laps in a pool, can make a big difference for your depression symptoms. Especially during the darker seasons, when you’re tempted to curl up on the couch anyway, physical activity and healthy eating are crucial.
An Ounce of Prevention Is Worth a Pound of Cure
With the right plan in place, you can do a lot to prevent your symptoms from occurring if you pay attention to your warning signs. With light and talk therapy ready to go before your seasonal affective disorder starts, you’ll be in a good place to cut your depression off before it starts. Going through a round of TMS at the same time could bring big benefits as well.
If you’re interested in learning more about TMS, Success TMS has a nationwide network of providers. TMS treatment is accepted by all major insurance providers, and our team is ready to talk to you whenever you feel your depression symptoms starting. Contact us at 855-943-3232