Beat the winter blues
Moms: Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD) is real, but it doesn't have to bring your family down. Here's how you can brighten those dark winter days.
What is Seasonal Affective Disorder?
Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD) is mood disorder also known as the winter blues or seasonal depression.
"Some people who have normal mental health throughout the year experience depressive symptoms every winter," says psychiatrist Dr. Soroya Bacchus of Los Angeles.
"They react adversely to decreasing amounts of sunlight and colder temperatures as fall and winter progress."
There are a number of symptoms associated with SAD, according to Dr. Bacchus:
- Crying spells
- Trouble concentrating
- Body aches
- Loss of sex drive
- Poor sleeping habits
- Decreased activity level
- Overeating (especially carbohydrates) and associated weight gain
Christina Steinorth, a licensed psychotherapist in Santa Barbara, specializes in working with mood disorders such as SAD. "One of the best things you can do during the dark days of winter is try to get exposure to 30 minutes of natural sunlight a day," says Steinorth. "If busy schedules make this difficult, then consider talking to your physician about light therapy."
Light therapy, or phototherapy, is exposure to artificial light. "The most common form of SAD is caused by lack of exposure to sunlight," explains Steinorth, "and light therapy affects the brain areas that influence melatonin and serotonin levels."
You simply sit near a light therapy box for 15 to 30 minutes a day. The light box mimics natural outdoor light. Symptoms may improve in as little as one week.
Other SAD treatments
"There are many treatments for classic (winter-based) SAD," says Dr. Bacchus:
- Antidepressant medication
- Cognitive-behavioral therapy
- Ionized-air administration
- Melatonin hormone therapy
Moms and SAD
"Seasonal Affective Disorder is very real," says Rachel Starck, licensed counselor and life coach. "Meet with your doctor to rule out other causes for mood changes, such as anemia or thyroid imbalances." And incorporate these simple lifestyle changes to improve your mood:
- Take vitamin D supplements (to make up for the vitamin D you're not getting from the sun)
- Maintain a regular exercise routine
- Spend time with friends and other moms -- don't isolate yourself
- Plan a snow day sledding and fort-building with the kids
- Schedule a weekend away in a sunnier place
- Plan a spring garden with your kids, or plant fragrant flowers indoors
- Consider talking with a counselor if your mood worsens
SAD is very real, confirms Steinorth. Don't spend your winter days in darkness. Take charge of your mood and improve your life.