By Laura Baker
Coping with Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD) doesn’t have to mean relying on prescription anti-depressants to get through the long, cold winter. While prescription medication is helpful for many and necessary in some cases, natural, alternative treatment options can help you manage your disorder alone or act as a supplement to pharmaceutical treatment for better symptom management. You should always discuss your treatment regimen with your healthcare provider, but if you’re looking into alternative treatment options, here are a few to consider.
Treat Yourself to a Well-Timed Vacation
Sometimes, a little break from reality offers substantial relief from the depression and anxiety common in people struggling with SAD. If it’s in your budget, take a well-timed vacation and escape from the mundane aspects of daily life for a few days.
The key to making this technique work is to choose a sunny location destination, allowing you to spend a few glorious days basking in the bright, warm sunlight. Of course, a tropical vacation every winter may not always be in your budget. Fortunately, there are other options if hopping on a plane to the nearest tropical island won’t be happening this winter.
Give Light Therapy a Try
The shorter days in the winter – resulting in less exposure to natural sunlight – is believed to be one of the biggest contributing factors in the development of SAD. It only makes sense, then, that a technique such as light therapy can be an effective treatment option.
In fact, light therapy is one of the most common tactics used in the treatment of SAD, and it doesn’t involve medication. Instead, light therapy starts with just 10- or 15-minute sessions (though your doctor may recommend 30 minutes or more) of exposure to full-spectrum lights.
Commit to a Regular Exercise Program
Don’t feel like dragging yourself out of the house and braving the cold to get to your local fitness center? No problem. You need only a few essentials to equip a gym in the comfort of your home. Purchase a few tools such as a yoga mat, a set of dumbbells, kettlebells, a balance trainer, and a set of resistance bands to make getting a full-body workout as easy as walking down the hall. That said, if you find that you’re feeling a little cramped and isolated during winter weather and the roads are clear, finding a local indoor pool is a great exercise option. In addition to simply swimming laps, there are tons of great ways to get fit in the pool and taking a dip may give you the taste of summer you sorely need.
SAD is caused by physiological disruptions (chemical imbalances in the brain), but that doesn’t mean that psychotherapy (also known as talk therapy or cognitive behavioral therapy) can’t be a viable treatment option. Many people with SAD fall into negative thought patterns and behaviors as a result of their disorder which only serve to exacerbate their symptoms. That’s precisely where psychotherapy comes in, offering patients help in shifting their thought patterns and breaking problematic behaviors for better symptom control.
Create an Environment That Brightens Your Mood
You may even be able to get some relief by creating the right environment in your home or office. Choosing certain color combinations, for instance, such as a color scheme including rich yellows, reds, and oranges, can have a mood-enhancing effect for some people. Eat a healthy diet with foods rich in these colors as well to reap the benefits of antioxidants and essential vitamins and minerals.
You can swap out the lights in your bathroom, kitchen, and other areas of the home (and your office, too) for full-spectrum lighting options to give yourself a boost of exposure first thing in the morning and throughout the day. Finally, consider aromatherapy and essential oils for full ambiance. Jasmine, citrus oils such as lemon and orange, basil, lavender, rose, and geranium are just a few of the essential oils and fragrances believed to have antidepressant or mood-boosting effects.
Living with SAD doesn’t have to mean being depressed and anxious throughout the winter months. While medication is helpful and necessary for some people living with the disorder, there are a variety of natural and alternative options that can help you better manage your SAD, whether you’re supplementing or replacing prescription treatment options. Always discuss your treatment plans with your healthcare provider to ensure that you’re not experimenting with any treatments that could potentially be detrimental to your well-being.