Seasonal Affective Disorder

by Dr. Lorin Bradbury

Question: I am new to the far north, and I have a history of Seasonal Affective Disorder. I am concerned as to how I am going to deal with the shorter days of winter. Do you have some suggestion for me? I am not interested in medication.

There are a number of things that you can do that don’t cost you much, if anything. These are only suggestion, and you may want to consider one or more of them.

1. Wake up early. There may be a tendency to sleep in during the long dark winter days. By waking up early, and not allowing yourself to fall into the trap of staying up late and sleeping in, keeps your biological clock in sync. This alone, will make a great difference in how you feel.

2. Get some sun. Sunlight improves your mood. Lack of sunlight can cause many people to become depressed. Similar to exercise, sunlight exposure releases neurotransmitters in the brain that affect mood. When it’s not too cold try to spend a little more time outdoors. Keep your shades up during the day to let more light in. Sit near windows in restaurants and during class.

3. Change your diet. Look for foods that will boost your metabolism so that you can burn extra calories, thus avoiding putting on those extra pounds that only add to feeling less well about yourself. Since you are likely to be less active, eat smaller portions and always start your day with a light breakfast.

4. Exercise. Exercise burns calories and generally makes you feel better. Get outside. Go for a walk or take up cross-country skiing. Look for others who might want to form an exercise group.

5. Take up reading. Reading offers a great escape, letting you take your mind off the cold. Check out your local library. Consider starting a reading group where the group agrees to read a certain book each month and get together and discuss it. Make this the year that you get into those old classics you have been talking about reading for many years.

6. Check out the college continuing education. Learning new things is one way of feeling better about self.

7. Avoid isolation. An exercise group, a reading group, and taking college classes all involve mixing with other people. Human beings are social beings. They need one another. Don’t underestimate the power of friends, family, mentors, co-workers, and neighbors. Keep a mental list of people with whom you would like to socialize. Something as simple as a phone call, or a chat over coffee can brighten your mood and change your day.

8. Act on your resolutions. Whatever you decide to do, act on it. A recent study from the CDC showed a strong link between healthy behaviors and less depression. Women who exhibited healthy behaviors (like exercising, not smoking, etc.) had less sad and depressed days than those whose behaviors were less than healthy. There is good reason to believe that the results would be similar in men.

9. Commit to morning prayer and devotions. This will help you develop direction for your day. There is an extensive body of research today demonstrating a positive relationship between prayer and religious devotion and good mental health.

Lorin L. Bradbury, Ph.D. is a licensed psychologist in private practice in Bethel. For appointments, he can be reached at 543-3266. If you have questions that you would like Dr. Bradbury to answer in the Delta Discovery, please send them to The Delta Discovery, P.O. Box 1028, Bethel, AK 99559, or e-mail them to [email protected]

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