Welcome to our final installment focusing on the topic of Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD). Over the past two weeks we’ve explored the symptoms and causes of SAD. If last week’s discussion of the risks to us here in Portland left you feeling a bit doomed to a fate of enduring SAD every year, fear not. Research over the past 30 years has offered some valuable information regarding the effectiveness of treatments specifically targeted to reduce symptoms and, at times, preventing an episode entirely. Know that others have sought treatment with positive results. Lastly, use this information to encourage yourself and loved-ones to pursue treatment. You’ll thank yourself later.
To fully understand any mental health disorder scientists and practitioners use models or frameworks that help explain the circumstances that cause a disorder in the first place. The most useful of these models is called the BioPsychoSocial model. The thought is, none of these areas are really isolated; each area of function has an effect on the other in some way. Addressing SAD by considering each of these areas goes a long way to developing effective treatment. So we’ve used the BioPsychoSocial model to explain the current treatments for SAD. As you’ll see, many treatment methods can affect more than one area of function.
If you recall from the previous week’s post we discussed the Circadian Rhythm, a biological process affecting the body’s regulation of brain chemicals. Some treatments are specifically for assisting the body in restoring normal sleep/wake cycles.
Sunlight: What does one do when this ingredient is in short supply? We imitate it. Phototherapy, more commonly referred to as Light Therapy, utilizes light provided by a special lamp or fixture. Research tells us that approximately 30 minutes, give or take, of light exposure, specifically aimed at your eyes, can ease depressive symptoms in as little as 4 days. Many people use a light therapy lamp at their desk or dining table positioned about 16”-24” away from their face. This is best done during the morning hours. When browsing for light therapy products be aware that some of the higher intensity lamps bring risk of damaging the eye. Make sure to look at the product offering by Phillips, who places more emphasis on the spectrum of light rather than the intensity of the light.
Movement: Moving your body for as little as 30 minutes a day has shown to be helpful in regulating mood as well as numerous other health benefits. Moving the body promotes healthy brain function. Fortunately, this is becoming common knowledge. For best results make sure to pursue additional forms of treatment too.
Medication: Not entirely unlike light therapy, anti-depressant drugs can be useful in helping the brain to regulate chemicals that affect mood. More than this, the medication can help provide relief from the physical symptoms like fatigue or aches and pains. Some people only take meds during the winter months, others take them year round to prevent a seasonal episode. You have many options here and a little research on your part will go a long way. One major caveat -- side effects are a reality. To what degree they cause disturbance depends on the individual. You must stay in contact with your prescriber regarding these side effects. No doubt you will be advised to do so by your doctor.
Chinese Medicine: This type of treatment has continued to demonstrate effectiveness in treating as many types of ailments as western medicine. Chinese medicine is widely available here in Portland resulting in a reasonable cost. Another unique benefit is that acupuncture carries very little risk of side-effects. Whether its acupuncture or the use of Chinese herbal medicine the practice is shown to be helpful in treating SAD.
Psychotherapy: Psychotherapy has proven to be at least as effective as any other treatment for depression. Seeing a therapist to discuss your troubling emotions and intrusive thoughts will often provide relief from the depressive and hopeless symptoms. The most proven critical aspect in therapy is feeling a connection with your therapist. You should feel safe and free of judgment. Some people find “their therapist” after meeting with other therapists that didn’t quite click. The most important thing to remember is that you need to keep looking if you haven’t found your match. Most therapists will talk with you over the phone free of charge to determine if they are a good fit. If not, ask them about therapists they believe may be a better fit for you. So what exactly is a good fit? Here’s a place to start. Remember, some treatments are helpful in more than one area of function. Some medications can help restore psychological function. Depending on the severity of symptoms, seeing a therapist in conjunction with the use of medication has shown to result in best outcomes.
Spend time with good people: Visiting friends and loved-ones is not only restorative for the soul it also has a biological underpinning; brain chemicals are involved. Spending time with your favorite people, especially when sharing personal feelings or providing and receiving loving support, can really work wonders in soothing depressive symptoms. Those people in your life who have a history of providing this type of support are the people who are likely capable of doing it again. Time spent with others can also have another positive effect. When we help others we benefit as well by feeling connection and usefulness.
Exercise: Ugh again? Yep. Physical activity, especially an enjoyable physical activity including friends delivers a one-two punch to symptoms of SAD. Pleasant and shared engagement is what you’re looking for. Portlanders pay attention! Winter weather can prove a worthy adversary when trying to soak up outdoor light and get your body moving. May we suggest a few things? A waterproof jacket, layers, gloves, and waterproof footwear all provide relief against the rain and wind. You may be surprised at how well this works. With mountains and beaches an hour away you have options for staying physically engaged in a wonderfully restorative environment. Leverage this one with everything you’ve got. Even if you don’t leave the city just bundle up and get out there. You’ll notice that others are out there trying to do the same. There’s an element of comradery that serves as a reminder that you’re not alone.
All of these treatments have proven helpful and are readily available in Portland. We suggest accommodating as many of these as you can to get the best results.
If you’d like to know more about SAD or you’d like a printable resource, check out these links:
NAMI SAD Fact Sheet
National Institute of Health
Do you have a favorite method you use to fight off symptoms? If so, feel free to share below and we’ll continue the discussion.
Until then, be well.