Navigating Seasonal Affective Disorder

by Dr. William P Albanese III, PharmD, MBA, BCPS

Millions of Americans suffer from seasonal affective disorder. While it’s no fault of your own if you get the wintertime blues every year, there are steps you can take to manage your condition and make it easier to get through the dark, cold months. In this video, Dr. William Albanese talks to Chris David about how to navigate seasonal affective disorder, how to improve your sleep, and how to use modern technology to monitor your sleep and your health. They also talk about what you should do if you think you have seasonal affective disorder. Here’s what you need to know to stay mentally and physically well if the winter months are getting you down.

If you think you have seasonal affective disorder, it’s important to understand the signs, symptoms, and causes. You don’t have to deal with seasonal depression alone. Here are a few tips to help you identify, understand, and navigate seasonal affective disorder so you can get the help you need to feel better.

What Are the Symptoms of Seasonal Affective Disorder?

The primary symptoms of seasonal affective disorder are stress, depression, fatigue, weight gain, and anxiety. If you experience the onset of these symptoms during cold months, you may be suffering from seasonal affective disorder.

What Causes Seasonal Affective Disorder?

The thyroid is the primary organ to look at when talking about seasonal affective disorder. This pea-sized organ produces hormones that are released into the bloodstream. These hormones can have long-term effects. The hormones released by the thyroid help your body prepare for the changing of the seasons. If you have seasonal affective disorder, it’s because your body is naturally responding to the changes in light and temperature.

In the summer, your thyroid releases hormones that tell your body to produce more energy. In the winter, your thyroid produces messenger hormones that encourage your body to conserve energy. This goes back to evolutionary biology. We used to need to preserve energy during the winter because food was scarce. Now, we have access to the same amount of food all year, but our bodies are still wired to conserve as it gets darker and colder. This is why some people experience fatigue, sadness, and weight gain when winter rolls around.

How You Can Manage Seasonal Affective Disorder

If you have seasonal affective disorder, it’s important to eat a healthy diet, get plenty of exercise, spend time outdoors in the sun, and surround yourself with friends and family members. You may also want to explore light therapy and talk to your doctor about medications and counseling that can help you feel better.

Why Sleep is So Important for Your Mental and Physical Health

Getting the right quantity and quality of sleep each night is important for everyone, and it can work wonders to help alleviate the symptoms of seasonal affective disorder. In fact, sleep plays an important role in managing all types of disorders. According to a Harvard study, 85% of patients seeking treatment for ADHD, depression, and bipolar disorder had poor sleep habits. If you have seasonal depression, improving your sleep may be the right place to start. Here’s what you can do to get your best night’s sleep every night.

How to Improve Your Sleep Quality

When you are trying to improve the quality of your sleep, it’s important to know which habits help, and which habits hinder, good sleep.

Habits That Hurt Your Sleep: 

  • Looking at television, laptop and phone screens before bed
  • Consuming caffeine, alcohol, and excess liquid before bed
  • Not keeping a consistent sleep schedule

Habits That Improve Your Sleep: 

  • Going to sleep and waking up at the same time every day
  • Using a blue light blocker on your devices
  • Keeping electronic devices out of the bedroom

When you are trying to improve the quality of your sleep, you have to take the necessary steps needed to get to R.E.M. sleep. Rapid eye movement is the stage of sleep in which your body regenerates and your brain forms memories. When you don’t sleep long enough, your body doesn’t reach the R.E.M. stage of the cycle. This causes fatigue and brain fog, and it can exacerbate the symptoms of seasonal affective disorder.

Tracking Your Sleep and Your Health

Technology like FitBit, iWatch, and Aura Ring can help you track how much sleep you’re getting each night and other health datapoints. These devices are excellent tools for surveying health information that you can use to determine whether or not you should see a doctor. For example, there is now an Apple EKG tool that can take an electrocardiogram for you. If you get abnormal results, you can bring the data from your tracker to your doctor and get evaluated with professional diagnostic equipment. As we are approaching the holiday season, giving health trackers as gifts can be helpful if the recipient knows how to use the technology and read the data. These trackers are excellent for collecting data, but not for professionally diagnosing conditions. If you are concerned about your data, you can come into Atracare Health to get evaluated.

What You Should Do if You Think You Have Seasonal Affective Disorder

If you are experiencing symptoms of seasonal affective disorder, there is help available at Atracare Health. The first thing we will look at when you come into see us is your lifestyle. We will ask you about your sleep habits, your diet, exercise, and alcohol and caffeine intake. Most often, we will make lifestyle change recommendations that will help alleviate the symptoms of seasonal depression. If you are still experiencing severe symptoms, we can refer you to counseling or prescribe medication to help you manage seasonal affective disorder. It’s important to remember that seasonal depression is only temporary, and it will pass when warmer, brighter months come back around.

Atracare Health staffs some of the best doctors trained at our nation’s finest institutions. We empower our providers by using cutting-edge technologies to give the best care possible. Dr. William P Albanese III is a key member of the Atracare staff.

 If you think you have seasonal affective disorder, we can get you set up with an appointment to meet with one of our doctors. We use the latest technology to make accurate diagnoses and get you the treatment you need to feel better. If you need to schedule an appointment with us, the best thing to do is to use our texting feature. Our text-to-schedule tool is the fastest, easiest way to set up a time to get seen. Just text 302-517-1385 to set up an appointment.

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