Millions of Americans suffer from some level of seasonal depression, and for some, this can be quite serious. As an online psychiatrist, I have some tips to help you fight the seasonal blues and I can help you better understand this condition.
Seasonal Affective Disorder Vs. The “Winter Blues”
Many people suffer from what we call the wintertime blues, but some people actually suffer from a mental health disorder known as seasonal affective disorder (SAD). The American Psychiatric Association refers to this disorder officially as Major Depressive Disorder with Seasonal Pattern.
The main difference between the winter blues and SAD is that the latter causes a level of depression that interferes with daily life activities. People with SAD also often experience weight gain as well as a general loss of interest in activities that they previously enjoyed.
Because the majority of people diagnosed with SAD live relatively far from the equator, it is believed that for those with SAD, the shorter hours of daylight may cause chemical imbalances in the brain.
Often, the symptoms begin around the time we adjust our clocks for daylight saving time, as this can disrupt one’s circadian rhythm. This “rhythm” is basically our body’s internal clock and it’s what helps our bodies manage our sleep/wake cycles as well as when to eat and even adjusts our body’s temperature to some extent.
Treatments For SAD
If seasonal depression is interfering with your daily activities or you experience extreme feelings of loneliness or despair and perhaps even suicidal thoughts, you should speak with a mental health professional as soon as possible.
If you are having suicidal thoughts, please call 988 to reach the National Suicide and Crisis Lifeline. There is always someone available to help at any hour of the day or night.
In general, for people with SAD, we try to use a combination of therapies including Bright Light Therapy (BLT), talk therapy and, often, antidepressant medication. Light therapy entails using a special box to provide you with extra light for a set period of time during the day and it has been shown to be very effective for people suffering from SAD.
It is important to note that while there are many light boxes available for purchase, you should consult with your online psychiatrist to ensure that you buy the best possible box and that you use it correctly.
Additionally, light box therapy may not be suitable for people with bipolar disorder. If you have glaucoma, cataracts or retinopathy, you should contact your ophthalmologist to discuss whether or not light therapy is the best option.
Talk therapy also has been shown to be helpful for people with SAD as well as all types of depression. This provides a good outlet for you to express your emotions and perhaps provides you with strategies to help you boost your mood.
Medication also can be an effective treatment option. As a virtual psychiatrist, I can prescribe antidepressants and while these can help, it is best to also include light therapy and talk therapy as this three-part approach tends to provide us with the best results.
Tips For Fighting The Winter Blues
SAD may be more severe than the wintertime blues, but these “blues” also can make a big (and negative) impact on our daily lives during the winter months. Sometimes, we experience the blues because of the lack of daylight hours and sometimes people tend to experience sadness around the holidays and at the start of the new year. Here are a few tips that can help you improve your mood.
1. Head Outside
In some parts of the world, winter daylight hours are scarce, but getting outside for any portion of the day can be beneficial. When it’s time for your lunch break, try to get outside and walk around for a while as the combination of sunlight and exercise can be beneficial.
2. Move Your Desk
If you work from home or have any flexibility in your workspace, try to move your desk to a sunny spot. Natural light as well as a view of the outdoors can help improve your mood.
3. Improve Your Diet
The holiday season typically brings with it a plethora of unhealthy treats and while munching on a cookie or two is probably fine, try to stick with a healthy diet and add some foods rich in Vitamin D.
Low levels of vitamin D have been linked to SAD as well as the winter blues, so consider taking a vitamin D supplement (such as cod liver oil) or adding foods such as salmon, sardines, tuna, egg yolks and mushrooms to your diet. Some milk products and orange juice are fortified with this vitamin and that also can be a good option.
4. Stay Social
By social, I definitely do not mean heading onto social media and scrolling through pictures of people laughing and cavorting their way through the holidays. In fact, I find it’s always best to keep in mind that people typically only showcase positive images on their social media, and this is not always the true reality that your social media “friends” are living.
However, if you are invited to holiday events, it can be a good idea to accept the invitations. Being around people can boost your mood, and if you have a small social circle, consider volunteering at a local food bank or a homeless shelter during this time of the year. You will meet other volunteers and have the opportunity to help others which definitely can improve your mood and your outlook in general.
5. Improve Your Home’s Ambiance
If you are feeling low, cheer yourself up with a bouquet of flowers or perhaps buy a new plant. Adding a bit of color or greenery to your home can improve your mood. Then set your table, light some candles and enjoy a nice meal.
Adding string lights or perhaps some cheerful posters or artwork or even family photos to your space also can create a more welcoming, happier environment. Often when we feel depressed, we put off cleaning tasks, however, straightening up your home, making your bed and keeping things clean can help improve your mood so do your best to keep your home tidy and welcoming. That can be easier said than done, but even just clearing off one area of your home or bedroom, can help you feel a sense of accomplishment.
6. Try Something New
There’s nothing like a new hobby to take our minds off our troubles. If you’ve always wanted to learn how to play guitar or paint, take some lessons. Learn how to knit, practice a new language, set a reading goal or take a cooking class at your local community center.
7. Talk To A Therapist
Whether you have SAD or the winter blues, talking to a professional is always a good idea. Therapists and psychologists can provide you with a helpful, listening ear and with coping strategies to get you through the winter season.
In-Person Visits Vs. Telepsychiatry
If you do need to work with a psychiatrist, these days we have the option of meeting in person or meeting virtually. Meeting with an online psychiatrist can be a good option for many reasons.
Telepsychiatry allows you to find the best board-certified psychiatrists rather than simply relying on a psychiatrist “near me.” While in-person visits are the best option for some patients, many of my patients love not having to wrangle through L.A. traffic to head into their doctor’s office. Using a virtual psychiatrist can save you time, and reduces stress and you can meet with me from just about anywhere where there is an internet connection.
As a virtual psychiatrist, I can provide the same level of care as I can with face-to-face visits, and we use a secure online platform for all of our psychiatry sessions. I can diagnose and develop a treatment plan for many mental illness, including anxiety and depression, bipolar disorder, SAD and many other issues.
Many of my patients have co-occurring disorders, such as bipolar disorder and depression or perhaps ADHD and anxiety or an eating disorder. As a medical doctor and mental health professional, my goal is to provide you with a complete diagnosis that addresses all of your mental health needs, including providing you with prescriptions for any necessary medications.
Additionally, you may need the services of a psychologist or a licensed therapist. A psychiatrist is a medical doctor, and a psychiatrist prescribes medications and can provide a solid diagnosis and treatment plan, but psychiatry sessions don’t typically include talk therapy, cognitive behavioral therapy or other types of therapy which is why you also need to find other mental health professionals to provide you with complete care.
Book An Appointment Today
If you need a psychiatrist in Thousand Oaks or a psychiatrist in Westlake Village, my offices are convenient for in-person visits. However, if you prefer telepsychiatry, I do offer virtual psychiatrist services for patients throughout California and I can provide treatment for depression, anxiety, ADHD, addiction and more.
Dr Jesalva is a psychiatrist. He is in private practice in Thousand Oaks, CA since 1989. He successfully treats very challenging patients with varying co-occurring disorders with medications.