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5 ways to prevent seasonal depression

The long, dark days of winter can have a depressing effect on some people. And what you may mistake as the “winter blues,” can actually be a more serious condition known as seasonal affective disorder (SAD). SAD is a form of depression that occurs in the winter when there is less natural sunlight.

“Sunlight regulates a lot of things in our body, like our moods, our internal clock, our eating patterns and even our sleeping patterns,” says Dennis Buttimer, a facilitator at Thomas F. Chapman Family Cancer Wellness at Piedmont. “When there is less sunlight, there is a drop in various hormones in the brain, like serotonin. And this actually causes some people to fall into a clinical depression.”

People suffering from SAD may feel anxious, irritable, have difficulty concentrating, and may lose interest in activities they usually enjoy.

To prevent the onset of seasonal depression, Buttimer offers the following tips:

1. Exercise. Exercise helps you feel better because it increases dopamine levels in the brain. Dopamine is a neurotransmitter that promotes feelings of pleasure and excitement. Take a walk outside for 30 minutes or enroll in an aerobics class. Anything you can do to stay active will improve your mood and overall well-being.

2. Go outside. “Being outside in nature is helpful because of the absorption of oxygen,” says Buttimer. “Try to expose yourself to at least five to 10 minutes of natural sunlight a day.”

Expose to sunlight may also help boost serotonin, a “feel good” hormone produced in the brain.

If it’s too cold to go outside, you can purchase a light therapy box for your home. Light therapy boxes mimic natural sunlight and can be placed in your home or workspace.

3. Reach out to friends. Spend time with loved ones or talk to them about how you are feeling. Friends and family can be a powerful source of support.

4. Eat a balanced diet. When people are down, they have a tendency to lean towards carbs, says Buttimer. It’s important to incorporate a variety of foods into your diet that build brain power, allowing you to improve your mood. Try foods rich in omega 3 fats, like salmon or walnuts. You can also eat foods with high levels of tryptophan, like lean chicken, spinach, bananas and eggs.

5. Drink more water. “People really underestimate the value of hydration,” says Buttimer. “If you get enough water it helps you sleep better, it helps your joints feel better, and it aids with digestion. It also helps to hydrate your brain.” 

Seeking professional help

If these techniques don’t work, and you’re still feeling down during the winter months, please contact your doctor. SAD can be treated with phototherapy, antidepressants or talk therapy. Your doctor can help you determine the right approach for your needs.

Think you may have symptoms of seasonal affective disorder? 

Need to make an appointment with a Piedmont physician? Save time, book online.

 

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