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December 2023: Seasonal Affective Disorder

frost-covered flowers on blue winter background with ICHC logo and the words "seasonal affective disorder"

Seasonal Affective Disorder

 

In this post:

 

Introduction – What is Seasonal Affective Disorder?

Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD), also known as the “winter blues,” is a type of depression that affects people when seasons change. It typically occurs during fall and winter when there is less sunlight and the days are shorter, and usually lifts during spring and summer. Seasonal Affective Disorder is especially common amongst Alaskans, who experience considerably less sunlight in the winter than folks living in other states throughout the U.S. The exact cause of SAD isn’t fully understood, but the link to lack of sunlight and seasonal changes is clear – as is the positive impact of exercise, light therapy, and regular sleep patterns.

 

Symptoms of SAD

Seasonal Affective Disorder is different for everyone, but mostly, it looks like depression. Symptoms include:

In addition, if you have already been diagnosed with depression, bipolar, or other mood disorders, you might find that your symptoms are worsened during the winter months – even if they’re normally well-controlled in the summer. Lack of sunlight can cause changes to your brain chemistry, which might mean changes to your medication, therapy, or other symptom management techniques might be needed during the darkest days of the year.

 

Managing SAD

Management of Seasonal Affective Disorder varies person to person, just like all mental health conditions, but here are some basic things you can do to alleviate your symptoms from lack of sunlight:

 

Light Therapy

No, really. There are special light boxes that filter out harmful UVs but still mimic the benefits of the sun on your body and brain. It only takes 30 minutes of light therapy a day to drastically reduce symptoms for most people, and you don’t need a prescription to purchase the right kind of light. It’s still a good idea to consult your doctor, especially if you have – or think you might have – any other type of mental health condition, because light therapy could affect your other conditions, too.

 

Physical Activity

We know exercise isn’t a cure-all, but sometimes it’s pretty close, and it does boost serotonin levels – which can also be affected by Seasonal Affective Disorder. Consistent exercise can help reduce stress and improve moods, even in the darkest and coldest of days. Indoor yoga and bodyweight exercises are great ways to improve your physical activity without requiring special equipment, a lot of space, or leaving your home, and can even be adapted for use from a chair if you have limited mobility. There’s a wealth of videos and tutorials online that can help you with this!

 

Healthy Sleep

Maintaining healthy, consistent sleep patterns helps our body keep consistent levels of melatonin, among many other benefits, which can help alleviate those feelings of fatigue and sluggishness from seasonal affective disorder. It’s tempting to sleep more when the winter hits, but that can lead to more tiredness, not less!

 

Talk to Your Doctor

Of course, the first place you should go for anything that ails you (short of an emergency!) is your family doctor. Your family or primary care doctor can help assess your condition, provide a diagnosis or referral to a specialist if needed, and may be able to prescribe medications to help with your mood. You can also seek help from a therapist or counselor for an extra hand with your mental health.

 

Community Resources

As always, we recommend reaching out to your family doctor for help with managing your seasonal affective disorder or other mood condition. Depending on your needs, you may need to see a specialist, but a referral from your family doctor is the best way to start that journey (and your insurance company might just require it!). At Interior Community Health Center, we also offer counseling services!

If you need immediate assistance for a mental health crisis, we recommend dialing 988 on your phone to reach the mental health crisis line. They have trained crisis counselors who are available 24 hours a day, 7 days a week for anyone of any age, including for non-English speakers or those who are deaf or hard of hearing. Plus, it’s free!

If cost is a barrier to access regular healthcare, don’t forget, private insurance is federally required to cover mental health treatment. Alaska Medicaid also covers these services. And last but not least, Community Health Centers (like us at ICHC!) offer sliding fee discounts based on your income, whether or not you have insurance, so you can find health care that you can afford. Call us at 907-455-4567, option 1, to schedule an appointment today.

Author
ICHC snowflake logo The Quality Team @ ICHC The Quality department at ICHC brings you helpful information about your healthcare in Fairbanks and Healy, AK. We are proudly committed to ensuring high-quality "healthcare with a heart!"

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