What is Seasonal Affective Disorder? A Local Psychiatrist Weighs In

Stay on top of your mental health if you’ve got a long case of the winter blues.

Via GettyIt’s not uncommon to find yourself down or moody during the winter months. This can be caused by Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD), a mood disorder characterized by depression that occurs around the same time every year. For most people, it lasts from fall to winter and results in people sleeping too much, overeating, feeling lethargic and experiencing depression most days. If a person’s symptoms interfere with their ability to function, they should seek professional help. We talked to Dr. Mark Zimmerman, director of adult outpatient psychiatry and the Partial Hospital Program at Rhode Island Hospital, on how to prevent and treat SAD.

Light therapy
Exposure to daylight is extremely important. Since there is less sunlight during the fall and winter months, light therapy, which is a great way to help with SAD, mimics natural light. The goal is to extend the number of hours that a person is exposed to sunlight and is most commonly used upon awakening in the morning. Sitting next to a light therapy box will increase your exposure and can be used as a conservative method for treatment.

Also known as talk therapy, this treatment teaches people how to cope with SAD and manage their stress. Individuals are encouraged to keep (virtual!) social engagements instead of self-isolating. It is important during this time to follow a schedule because it adds structure.

Staying active is not only important for physical health, but mental health, too. Exercise can boost your mood and relieve stress and anxiety. Plus, if you’re outside, you’re receiving more natural light. Getting outside for thirty minutes at least three days a week maintains strength of the mind and body.

Medication can be used for SAD if more conservative treatments such as light therapy and talk therapy aren’t offering relief. Patients should consult with their doctor before taking any medication to determine if this is the best course of action. Part of SAD’s significance is its persistence, and if it continues for months without preventive action, impaired functioning can result.