The condition known as seasonal affective disorder, or SAD, may result in a variety of symptoms including increase in appetite, difficulty waking up/sleep changes, extreme fatigue or lethargy and changes in mood. While the disorder is believed to affect around ten million Americans, it is virtually unheard of in locations close to the equator, since the condition is associated with a lack of exposure to natural light.
In addition to the traditional methods of SAD treatment — including light therapy, medication, cognitive behavioural therapy and regular exercise — there are a variety of other self-help tools and practical suggestions to help cope with the condition including:
Since SAD is associated with changes in appetite, binge eating, craving for simple carbohydrates such as sugary, snack foods, diet is an important part of managing symptoms. If possible, find a recipe or guide book on meals that are high in protein, high in omega-3 and low in simple carbohydrates. Alternatives to snacking on sugary foods can include eating seeds (from health food stores), magnesium-rich nuts and raw vegetables.
Eating more complex carbohydrates, high-protein and omega-3-rich foods will also help to reduce cravings for simple carbohydrates, while balancing blood sugar levels. Taking a daily multivitamin is also beneficial, particularly for those who lead a busy life and therefore fail to eat a balanced diet.
In addition to traditional light therapy using a light box, it is a good idea to try to make one’s home and/or work environment as bright as possible. At work, it can be beneficial to relocate to a desk that’s situated near a window, for instance.
At home, think about redecorating using bright light. It can be helpful to replace ordinary light bulbs with daylight bulbs that provide full-spectrum daylight. Keep blinds or curtains open as long as possible and regularly prune any hedges or trees that may block sunlight access.
While the overwhelming majority of Brits jet off to warmer climates during the summer months, this is not necessarily the best time to take a holiday for those who suffer from SAD. As sunlight is readily available at home during the summer months, it can be worthwhile to consider a trip during the autumn or late winter – times when sunlight is limited.
In January, flights tend to be cheapest and SAD symptoms are often at their worst. Therefore, traveling to locations in the equatorial region can be a good option, as the abundance of sunlight can improve health.
Some symptoms may not be helped by self-help strategies, and as with any illness, it is important to make an appointment to discuss effective treatment options with a physician.
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