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How to Battle Seasonal Affective Disorder

The Christmas season is supposed to be “The Most Wonderful Time of the Year”. As it may be a wonderful time for children and those looking to benefit from the many presents to open, it is not a joyous time of the year for many adults. In my office, I notice an increase in depression and anxiety with my existing patients as well as many new referrals that come my way. A change in mood during the winter season has become so prevalent that it even has its own diagnosis, Seasonal Affective Disorder. Recent research suggests that as many as 3 million adults each year are affected.

People most prone to this diagnosis are those individuals who are working indoors for 10+ plus a day.

Factors that come into play include:

  1. Biological Clock/Circadian Rhythm) – The reduced level of sunlight in the fall and winter months can disrupt your body’s internal clock. People that work longer days may leave for work and come home at night without ever seeing the sunlight.
  2. Serotonin Levels – Reduced sunlight can cause a drop in Serotonin, which is a brain chemical that affects mood.
  3. Melatonin Levels – Changes in the seasons can disrupt the body’s balance of Melatonin, which affects sleep patterns and mood.

In addition to the biological factors, the holiday and winter season also can be difficult for people who have suffered a death in their life or major changes in their family structure. Surviving this season is not just about hibernating and waiting for spring, but rather planning the right way and creating action during it. Don’t just wait until January 1st to create some New Year’s resolutions, but instead be proactive.

Here are some suggestions for beating the winter blues:

  1. Stay active and structured with your physical health – Be mindful of your diet and just because it is Thanksgiving and Christmas does not mean you have the liberty to eat all that is available to you. It is important to get outside as much as possible and begin an exercise program now even if you aren’t involved in one.
  2. Force yourself to be social and connected – Whether you are physically meeting with people or hanging out with people online, it is vital for a person’s health to spend time around others. Having trouble finding supportive people in your life? Consider volunteering and giving back in some way within the community or within a local church.
  3. Show compassion for yourself – It is important during this time to focus on positive affirmations and daily goals. Make sure you are working towards feeling positive and purposed with your mindset. Consider investing in a light lamp or looking into taking Omega-3 supplements. Research has shown that both of these methods can help with feeling and thinking better.
  4. Focus on your faith in God – Mood changes that lead to Seasonal Affective Disorder are frustrating because it is not a result of anything a person has done or caused. Many of the patients I work with can feel like God has abandoned them during this time. The winter and holiday season is a wonderful time to reconnect with your faith in God in a healthy and productive way. If you are not part of a church, consider looking into places where you can visit and serve. Serving others in the name of Christ is a great way to feel purpose.

Michael Linn is a Licensed Professional Counselor in the state of Pennsylvania and a Nationally Certified Counselor. He is the owner of Resolute Counseling, located in Chambersburg, Pennsylvania.  He can be reached by calling 717-264-0450 or visiting www.resolutecounseling.com.

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