What is Seasonal Affective Disorder?

The winter months can be a difficult time for seniors. After the festivities of the holiday season are over and family and friends have returned home from visiting, the long, cold months ahead can be isolating and lonely for the elderly. However, there’s actually a scientific reason for seasonal depression, too.

Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD) touches many people from as early as the month of September when the days first start getting shorter, all the way through as late as the end of May. Because the sun is out for a much shorter period of time throughout the winter months, the lack of sunlight can disturb our circadian rhythms, or our sleep-wake cycles. The level of serotonin in our systems can also be affected, leading to a change in our moods.

It’s somewhat difficult to diagnose SAD, but in general, the symptoms include:

  • Feeling sad, anxious or depressed
  • Losing interest in activities you normally enjoy
  • Weight gain
  • Chronic tiredness
  • Difficulty concentrating

If you’ve noticed any of these symptoms throughout the winter months for the past few years, or perhaps a family member was diagnosed with seasonal depression, it’s possible you’re affected by it as well. However, a full mental health assessment should be completed to rule out other issues like hypothyroidism or low blood pressure.

Seasonal depression is more likely to affect women than men, especially those who live in northern areas of the country where the sunlight is not very strong during the winter months.

Staying Positive to Beat Seasonal Depression

If you’re suffering from seasonal depression, there are ways to boost your mood and keep a positive attitude throughout the winter. Here are just a few techniques that have been known to help those with SAD:

  • Reach out to others. Talk to friends or family when you start to feel isolated or lonely; they’re just a phone call away! Or, join a support group or head to a counselor for therapy. Just talking about how you feel can improve your spirits, plus you’re getting the social interaction you need, too.
  • Lighten up your life. A known therapy for SAD is called light therapy, which uses a fluorescent lamp to give off light similar to sunlight. This therapy can help regulate neurotransmitters like serotonin and epinephrine to boost your mood, while also decreasing the amount of melatonin in your system to give you more energy.
  • Get physical. Adding at least 30 minutes of physical activity into your daily routine will help improve your mood and your sleep habits. If you’re just getting started, you can break the thirty minutes into ten minute intervals just to get you moving regularly.
  • Add more vitamin D to your diet. Maintaining our vitamin D levels can be more difficult throughout the winter, since we get vitamin D from sun exposure. Plus, a lack of vitamin D can lead to a greater risk for osteoporosis. Add foods like salmon, egg yolks and lean red meat to your diet to consume more vitamin D when the sun isn’t out shining as much.

 

Find out more about the Healthy Horizons program offered at Galloway Ridge by clicking here.