Seasonal Affective Disorder: Are You at Risk This Winter?

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Seasonal Affective Disorder: Are You at Risk This Winter?

As the weather turns colder and the daylight hours grow shorter, it’s important to keep an eye out for a mood disorder that affects nearly three million Americans each year: Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD).

“Our body runs just like a clock, and when those rhythms are disrupted for any reason, we can experience emotional and physical symptoms,” says Amanda Galer, a Licensed Clinical Social Worker at St. Elizabeth Healthcare. “SAD is most often caused when our natural rhythms are thrown off, either chemically or environmentally.”

One major cause of SAD is the change of seasons, especially when we go from experiencing lots of bright summer sunlight to much less – and bleaker – winter sun during the daytime hours. This seasonal change can cause a natural dip in our body’s production of Serotonin, Melatonin and/or Vitamin D, which all play an essential role in mental health. SAD symptoms can include fatigue, withdrawing from social situations and depression.

It’s commonly believed that SAD only occurs during the fall or winter months. While more cases do occur during those seasons, SAD can also be environmental or situational – for example, switching from first shift to third or moving into a new living space with less natural light. Any major disruption to your environment can trigger SAD.

SAD: Who does it affect?

Those at highest risk for SAD include:

  • Women
  • People who live further away from the equator
  • People who lack exposure to sunlight
  • People at high risk for depression or who currently have depression
  • Family history of SAD or mental health illness

St. Elizabeth Healthcare has many services that can help if you or someone you love is struggling with SAD. A great start? Go in for your annual physical with your primary care physician. Annual exams are typically free of charge under most insurance programs and can help rule out other factors that can contribute to SAD. St. Elizabeth Healthcare also offers outpatient therapy and medication management to help support our patients.

SAD: Home Remedies

If you or a loved one has SAD, is there anything you can do at home to help? The experts at St. Elizabeth say absolutely.

“The most important thing you can do is establish a routine, especially related to sleep, diet and exercise,” says Amanda. “It’s vital to maintain good mental and physical health.”

Other top tips for combatting SAD include:

  • Enjoy time in the sunshine in the early morning hours when the harmful UV rays are less of a danger. Make sure to use SPF or wear a wide-brimmed hat.
  • During cold weather, allow natural sunlight into your house or office throughout your day. If natural light isn’t available, utilize “light therapy” which is available online or in local stores.
  • Eat foods high in Omega 3.
  • Ask your physician or pharmacist to recommend a daily vitamin regimen.

For more information or to schedule an appointment at St. Elizabeth Physicians Outpatient Behavioral Health, please call (859) 301-5901. And as always – call for help immediately if you feel like you could hurt yourself or others.