Living With Seasonal Affective Disorder

Plenty of people experience a hint of the winter blues as harsh weather keeps us shut up indoors, but seasonal affective disorder (SAD) is a more serious form of depression. Fortunately, there are effective forms of treatment. These are the basic facts about SAD and how to feel better year round.

Understanding the Facts About SAD

  1. Distinguish between SAD and other forms of depression. SAD often resembles other types of depression. The key difference is that your symptoms are limited to the same season each year.
  2. Recognize the symptoms. With SAD, you’re likely to feel sad and irritable. You may be hungry all the time with especially strong cravings for carbohydrates like bread and pasta. It’s also common to feel drowsy and sleep more.
  3. Be aware of the different varieties of SAD. This condition usually strikes in the winter, but not always. For some people, the heat and humidity of summer serve as triggers.
  4. Know your risk factors. The highest risk of SAD occurs between the ages of 15 and 55. As you age, you’re less likely to develop SAD. It’s more common in women and in areas where winter days are shorter and the amount of light changes dramatically according to the season. Family history also plays a role.

Strategies for Living With SAD

  1. Increase your exposure to light. Home remedies are sometimes all you need. Try using brighter lights and spending more time outdoors in the sun. Morning light is especially important.
  2. Try out light therapy. If your symptoms are more intense, your physician will probably prescribe light therapy. You spend just about a half hour a day exposed to a special box lamp. There are few side effects and many people enjoy immediate relief. For others, simple complementary activities do the trick.
  3. Get more exercise. Regular exercise is beneficial for coping with most forms of depression, including SAD. Schedule a workout first thing in the morning like a brisk walk around the neighborhood or Tai Chi in your backyard.
  4. Manage stress. Be extra gentle with yourself while you’re recovering. Take time to relax through meditation or listening to instrumental music.
  5. Aim for good quality sleep. Your body will try to get extra sleep when you have SAD. Help make that slumber restorative by avoiding alcohol and caffeine and sticking to a regular early bedtime.
  6. Watch your weight. SAD can lead to weight gain. Protect your health by exercising longer to burn more calories. When you get cravings, reach for healthy, low-fat carbohydrates like whole wheat bread and brown rice.
  7. Do some traveling. If your budget and schedule permit, SAD is one of the few issues you can run away from. Go where the weather suits your needs better. Try spending a week in Jamaica.
  8. Stick with your doctor’s recommendations. Your doctor can advise you on whether antidepressants may be helpful. Even if your symptoms clear up, follow your doctor’s recommendations. If you discontinue treatment too soon, you may suffer a rebound.
  9. See a counselor. Talk therapy is another valuable resource. It may help you address underlying issues and keep SAD from interfering with your daily life.

While winter cold can be daunting, the change of seasons can also be an opportunity to appreciate nature and shake up your daily routines. A little more exposure to morning light may be all you need to stay well. If you think you could be experiencing symptoms of SAD, talk with your doctor to find a treatment plan that works for you.

Break Free From Emotional Eating

Experts believe that up to 75% of overeating may be due to reasons other than physical hunger. If you want to improve your relationship with food, learn to identify and control emotional eating.

Recognize the Signs

1. Understand how emotional eating works. Emotional eating occurs when you use food to manage your feelings, rather than to satisfy your hunger. This can trigger guilt and create a cycle where you eat because you feel bad and feel bad because you eat. Positive feelings can also play a role if you associate food with celebrating.

2. Keep a balanced perspective. It’s okay to take pleasure in food and enjoy sharing it with others. Concerns arise only when emotional eating interferes with your health and well being.

3. Ask yourself if you feel out of control. You may have lost control of your eating habits if you want to make healthier choices but keep backsliding. Be honest with yourself if you resolve to have yogurt for breakfast but wind up stopping off for a bacon sandwich on the way to work.

4. Notice your cravings. A strong desire for specific dishes is a common symptom of emotional eating. If you’re actually hungry, everything on the menu is likely to sound appealing. When you’re depressed over a recent breakup, ice cream may be the only thing you want to order.

5. Evaluate your hunger levels. Another danger sign is eating when you already feel full. Slow down and decide if you really need another helping of mashed potatoes.

6. Consider your family history. The way you eat may be grounded in patterns that started in childhood. Maybe you were rewarded with a homemade cake when you got good grades.

Develop a Healthier Relationship With Food

1. Keep a journal. It’s easier to spot patterns when you write down when and why you eat. You may notice that you snack on potato chips when you’re bored, even though you’ve just eaten a full meal.

2. Substitute healthy foods. Cravings can be used to benefit you if you reach for nutritious alternatives. Homemade pita triangles dipped in olive oil can replace French fries with ketchup. Indulge in fresh fruit when you want dessert.

3. Control portion sizes. Eliminating all your favorite treats can cause a backlash from deprivation. See if a sliver of pie makes you just as happy as a big slice and savor every bite.

4. Seek distractions. Engage in productive activities that will take your mind off your stomach. Go for a walk, read a book, or do some housework.

5. Develop positive coping techniques. Comfort foods deliver only short-term relief. Find more effective methods for managing daily stress, such as meditation, music or physical exercise.

6. Avoid temptation. If you find your favorite cookies to be too irresistible, banish them from your pantry. Choose restaurants that specialize in grilled fish if you have trouble declining fried chicken.

7. Get adequate sleep. Being chronically tired makes you more vulnerable to overeating. Aim for 8 hours of sleep every night. Take a warm bath before bed to raise your body temperature if you have trouble falling asleep.

8. Reward your good behavior. Reinforce the positive changes you make in your behavior. Set realistic goals and praise yourself when you attain them. Buy yourself something special or visit your favorite museum.

9. Seek professional help. If you need more help to change the way you eat, talk with an expert. Counseling may clarify the underlying issues you need to address. Nutritionists can advise you on a diet that will work with your individual lifestyle.

Liberate yourself from emotional eating so you can protect your health and enjoy your food more. These methods will help put you back in control.