Health & Fitness

Get tips for managing the symptoms of SAD

The holidays are a stressful time of year for everyone. People are busy shopping, decorating and preparing for all of the festivities. The expectations to enjoy the season can be pretty daunting, especially if you suffer from Seasonal Affective Disorder.

But, there is much a person can do to manage the symptoms of SAD and make the holiday more manageable.

SAD — sometimes called “winter depression” or “seasonal depression” — is a very real condition that affects some 10 million Americans. It is generally characterized by recurrent depression during a specific time of year — generally when there is an absence of sunlight. Sufferers of SAD typically recuperate when there’s more sunshine and fairer weather.

The prevalence of SAD is lowest in states with generous amounts of sunshine (only 1.4 percent of the population of Florida) and highest in areas of persistent cloudy weather (in New Hampshire, 9.7 percent of the population has SAD). During the Puget Sound region’s dark and cloudy fall and winter months, SAD sufferers can struggle just to get through their day. And when the holidays come along, the pressure to make the season enjoyable can be overwhelming for those affected by this condition.

Sufferers of SAD can experience serious mood and behavior changes when the seasons change. This can include excessive sleep, lack of energy, daytime drowsiness, cravings for sweet or starchy foods, and feelings of depression and despair.

There are several steps a person can take to lessen the effects of SAD. These include:

Seek help. There are a number of proven methods that help with SAD. These include light therapy (light boxes or full spectrum lighting), cognitive-behavioral therapy, ionized-air administration, melatonin supplementation and antidepressants. Talk to your health care provider to find what’s right for you.

Go outside. Getting outside during the daylight hours — even if it’s cloudy — can provide some of the benefits of being outside in sunny weather. If you add some physical activity, like going for a walk or doing some weeding, you’ll feel even better.

Reward yourself with a “suncation.” Getting away to a sunnier climate — even if the air is cold — can help tremendously. Options that are fairly close include Eastern Washington, Victoria, B.C., and the Sequim area. Even the anticipation of a brief vacation — either before or after the holidays — can help with some of the symptoms of SAD.

Set limits for yourself (and others). Remember that you don’t have to do everything that’s asked of you during the holidays. Pace yourself and learn to delegate responsibilities to others in your family.

Do for others. Sometimes the act of sharing with others less fortunate can help with excessive worry and feelings of personal despair. Donating your time at a homeless shelter or wrapping presents for foster kids are great ways to direct your energies.

Give yourself a break. Being part of a real-life family around the holidays means arguments, sibling rivalries, burnt turkeys and the occasional tipped Christmas tree. It’s OK to take a break from all that if you need to.

Know that you are not alone. SAD impacts millions of us. When you are feeling SAD’s effects, it’s OK to be honest with your family about it — they can only help you if they know that you are in need. Let them be there for you.

It’s true that being healthy takes more than health care. Sometimes being healthier and happier can simply take being kind to yourself, setting realistic expectations, and allowing yourself to have fun.

Learning to live a healthy life and take care of yourself — one of the goals of Thurston Thrives’ Clinical and Emergency Care Strategy — is something that we can all do for ourselves and our loved ones. If you suffer from SAD, now is the time to do what you can to take care of yourself, so that you will be happy and healthy come springtime.