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Clinically Proven Ways To Beat Seasonal Affective Disorder

Discussion in 'Psychiatry' started by Mahmoud Abudeif, Jan 19, 2020.

  1. Mahmoud Abudeif

    Mahmoud Abudeif Golden Member

    Mar 5, 2019
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    Winter can be a dark, difficult season. Long nights, short days, and plummeting temperatures have many reaching for electric blankets or booking vacations to warmer climes. But for about 10 million Americans, seasonal affective disorder (SAD) makes the winter months even more trying.

    According to the Mayo Clinic, people with SAD often experience daily feelings of depression, loss of interest in activities, low energy levels, sleep difficulties, weight gain or appetite changes, sluggishness or agitation, concentration difficulties, feelings of hopelessness, guilt, or worthlessness, and thoughts of death or suicide. The good news is that if you or any of your patients have SAD, there are numerous treatment options. Some of them are more conventional, such as cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT) or antidepressants. Others you might not be aware of, but are scientifically proven to be effective. Here are 4 ways to beat SAD and the winter blues.

    Light therapy

    The Mayo Clinic says that the underlying causes of SAD remain a mystery. However, one of the prevailing theories as to why some people experience a decrease in feelings of wellbeing during the winter months is a decrease in the exposure to sunlight. The thinking is that the lack of sunlight disrupts the body’s circadian rhythm, leading to the onset of depression. Diminished sun exposure may also reduce serotonin levels in the body.

    Research has shown that exposure to simulated sunlight helps mitigate symptoms. Patients can use light boxes alone or in combination with other proven therapies. These boxes provide 10,000 lux of light while limiting UV exposure. A 2009 study published in the International Journal on Disability and Human Development showed that using these light boxes from 20-60 minutes daily led to “a significant immediate reduction of depression scores.” Another study, published in 2006 in the American Journal of Psychiatry, concluded that light therapy may be just as effective for SAD as fluoxetine.


    Many mammals hibernate in the winter. While humans don’t, many tend to be less active, venturing outdoors less frequently, due to colder temperatures and winter weather. But for those with SAD, some exercise might be just what they need. These workouts require little or no equipment, and many can be performed in the heated confines of your home.

    Research shows that while not as effective as the use of light boxes, exercise may prove beneficial for some SAD patients. A 2012 meta-analysis published in the Cochrane Database of Systematic Reviews showed that exercise may improve some symptoms. However, when researchers included only the more rigorous trials on the subject, “the effect on depression was small.” The researchers noted that exercise, however, is more effective than no treatment at all. Another study, which included 43 depressed undergraduate females, showed that strenuous aerobic exercise over a 10-week period led to decreased self-reported symptoms of depression. Another meta-analysis, performed by scholars at the University of Dundee, concluded that exercise seemed to improve depression symptoms. However, researchers said they couldn’t gauge just how effective exercise is, or what type of exercise is most effective.


    Most of us have felt it. Music has the power to make our hearts break or swell. It also can help raise spirits, research suggests. Some studies indicate that music may have a role to play in treating SAD, especially among older adults.

    A 2009 study published in the International Journal of Mental Health Nursing showed that music may help those 65 and older express negative emotions, thus lessening feelings of depression. In the study, which included 47 elderly people in Hong Kong, those who underwent music therapy experienced statistically significant decreases in depression scores, as well as blood pressure and respiratory rate, after a month. These findings appear to be supported by a 2010 study published in Complementary Studies in Medicine. This study found that not only did elderly patients experience fewer depression symptoms, they also slept better.


    Sometimes, helping others goes a long way in making ourselves feel better. This may prove true in instances of SAD, research suggests. For those experiencing seasonal depression, volunteering may provide some relief.

    A 2010 study published in the Journal of Aging and Health shows that like music therapy, volunteering might be helpful for those over the age of 65 who are dealing with depression as a result of SAD. The study concluded that “volunteering affects the decline of depression for individuals above age 65,” however, this didn’t prove true for younger adults, as well as those who are middle-aged. A 2002 study published in the journal of Social Science and Medicine sheds some light on why this might be the case. Researchers say that volunteering provides seniors with social integration, which is a psychological resource that can counter depression and anxiety. The researchers note that volunteering for religious causes was more beneficial for the relief of negative emotions than for secular causes. This benefit, however, was limited to the elderly.


    While talk therapy and antidepressants have proven to be effective for treating SAD, there are other options that can be used alone or in conjunction with these therapies. They include:
    • Light therapy: Exposure to artificial light that mimics the sun
    • Exercise: Some benefits, but not as efficacious as other options.
    • Music therapy: Effective among the elderly, research indicates.
    • Volunteering: Also effective among the elderly, research indicates.

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