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Why seasonal affective disorder impacts our mood in winter, and how to treat it



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Many of us suffer from the winter blues, but seasonal affective disorder (SAD) is a mental illness and should be treated accordingly, says clinical psychologist Jacqui Maguire.


People who suffer from SAD have many of the common depressive symptoms, he told RNZ. Nights.

“It can be low mood, loss of joy, a change in sleep patterns or appetite, irritability or agitation, changes in libido, those very common symptoms that are also seen in seasonal affective disorder.

“The difference is that seasonal affective disorder starts during the fall-winter months and people recover, they get better, when the days get longer, the light is stronger, the light is warmer, so there is a very seasonal pattern in that depression.”

So what is it about those winter and fall months that can put people off?

“It’s chemical,” he said.

“Shorter days have an impact on our serotonin, the body’s happy drug. When there is a shortage of serotonin that can cause bad moods, the idea is that it can affect our circadian rhythm, so your sleep cycles, which then it also has an impact on mood.

“There could be an impact on melatonin, and melatonin is the hormone that helps drive sleep. So it’s the kind of chemical reactions, bodily processes, that research believes are what lead to that seasonal pattern of depression”.

Maguire said there were effective evidence-based treatments such as light box therapy.

“You sit for anywhere from 30 minutes to two hours in front of this 2,500 lux light, an extremely bright light.”

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Medication options from a doctor or psychiatrist for depression were also an option, he said.

‘Green recipes’

Maguire recommended keeping an eye on “green recipes.”

“Making sure you can actually go out, even if it’s gray and dirty, actually the light outside is still bright.

“Thirty minutes a day of bright light, if you can do it early in the morning, before 9:30 a.m. [then] You’re looking at a winner.”

And don’t forget to feed the body, he said.

“Are you fueling your body with nutritious foods to ensure from a physical health perspective, which of course through your gut, has important links to mental physical health?”

And keep your social life as active as possible, he said.

“Do you stay connected with people? Because we all know that when it’s cold and dark, and the days are shorter, you want to come home from work, put on your pajamas and curl up in front of the TV, and that can be great some days “. .

“But are you making sure you continue to interact with people, because social connection is vitally important for our mental health and well-being?”

There were signs to be careful and that professional intervention might be necessary, Maguire said.

“It is [SAD] Affecting your relationship? If you are a parent, is it getting in the way of you being a parent? At work, does it get in the way of your ability to think clearly, concentrate, manage team members, or produce results? You can take a look at your life and ask: what is the impact?

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“If the impact is significant, if those symptoms get in the way of living life well, relationships with people, work, community, then that’s an indication.”

However, if you experience SAD, you can still thrive, she said.

“People with mental illness can still thrive, the most important thing in psychoeducation is that whether you have seasonal affective disorder, occasionally experience anxiety, depression or bipolar or whatever diagnosis you want to choose, you can still thrive in life. and to have a good life, to be well connected and to have joy and meaning.

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