Community Psychiatry’s Medical Director, Dr. Priyanka, and Dr. Julian Lagoy were featured in Mic discussing Seasonal Affective Disorder. 

How to combat seasonal affective disorder as early as the fall

By: Tracy Anne Duncan | Mic | September 17, 2020

First off, it’s important to establish the difference between SAD, depression in general, and pandemic-induced melancholy. Seasonal depression does have many of the same symptoms as clinical depression — like low energy and mood and sleep troubles — but its isolated phase makes it unique. “It is a direct result of weather and location,” says Julian Lagoy, a California-based psychiatrist. You can tell it’s SAD, then, and not another issue when someone experiences depressive symptoms at the same time each year in the fall and winter, Lagoy says. And the condition is more prevalent in northern states where there is less sunlight per day.

Seasonal depression (hence the term) is not based on constant chemical imbalance or on difficult life circumstances; it’s more about how some people’s bodies respond to a reduction in sunlight. “We are reliant on sunlight both for our physical and our mental health,” Lagoy explains. There are several theories on why this is true; Lagoy mentions vitamin D — which the body generates when skin is exposed to sunlight — and the importance of circadian rhythms, or alignment with the natural cycles of the day.

Start shifting your day earlier

“The key to managing SAD is to start by putting interventions in place early,” says P. Priyanka, a psychiatrist based in Fresno, California. To deal with the real physical effects of shorter days, people with SAD can start shifting their wake up times up so that they are awake for more sun-filled hours of the day.

Consider vitamin D supplements

Priyanka and Lagoy agree that vitamin D supplements may also help, as research suggests that there is a correlation between vitamin D deficiency and SAD. But, there are a couple of caveats, the first of which is that you need to make sure you’re actually deficient in vitamin D before you start popping a high-dose supplement. Your doctor can use a blood test to check you for vitamin D deficiency. To be clear, it is pretty hard to OD on vitamin D, but it can be toxic if you have too much.

Start figuring out how to get more natural light

Some of the other recommended treatments for SAD are free, totally non-toxic, and readily available. “Open all the blinds in the house so that the house has more natural light in the fall and the winter months,” says Lagoy. Light is the key to combating SAD, so the first thing you need to do is get some light in your space, however incidental it is. You can also trim any tree branches that are shading your view.

Priyanka agrees that getting natural light is crucial, but the truth is that the amount of light you can get in your home is limited by many factors. She suggests that folks should start using light therapy boxes — lamps with bulbs that mimic outdoor light — ASAP. It’s too easy to wait until you’re already feeling the effects to put new habits into place, but there’s good reason to plan ahead. “This improves the individual’s chances of managing the symptoms better and keeps them functional and consistent throughout the rest of the year,” says Priyanka. Starting light therapy in August or September can help decrease both the symptoms and the duration of the symptoms of SAD.

Exercise

“People with SAD should keep exercising and eating healthy throughout the year,” says Lagoy. Exercising in bright light has been shown by researchers to be better for elevating mood, so no dank gym basements. You will have to be particularly mindful of keeping it up heading in the colder, darker, months — when SAD symptoms peak — he says, but starting now will lock those habits in place and could help reduce the severity of symptoms.

Click here to read the entire article on Mic.

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