Culture

How to Support Your Mental Health as the Seasons Change


Senior woman looking out a window.

Active Aging  |  Presented by: Physicians Medical Group of San Jose

As the days get shorter and colder and we welcome the festivities of fall, many older adults notice that they experience a change in energy levels and mood that feels like depression. If you’ve noticed a decline in your mental health when the seasons change, you’re not alone. Here’s a basic guide to understanding seasonal depression, its symptoms, and most importantly, how to cope with its effects so that you can take charge of your health.

Changing Seasons, Changing Mood

Many people experience some form of mood change as seasons shift from summer to fall. When there are fewer daylight hours and it’s colder, it’s harder to get outside and help our bodies naturally regulate our circadian clock using signals from nature. In addition, a lack of sunlight may deplete our Vitamin D stores, which may also lead to low energy levels and decrease our serotonin levels (a brain chemical that helps us regulate our mood). If you’ve noticed that you feel sadder, have trouble sleeping, have low energy, or experience a lack of motivation, you may be experiencing seasonal mood changes.

What is Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD)?

Whether your seasonal mood changes are dubbed “winter blues” or the more serious Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD) is a matter of degree and duration. In general, winter blues last a shorter period of time and do not interfere with your ability to complete regular daily functions. Kristen Fuller, MD, explains in Very Well that SAD, on the other hand, “is more than the ‘winter blues’ because symptoms of SAD can be severe and even debilitating.” The National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH) estimates that “[m]illions of American adults may suffer from SAD, although many may not know they have the condition.” The Centers for Disease Control report that “[d]epression… is the most prevalent mental health problem among older adults,” and seasonal depression is just one of its many forms.

Fortunately, those suffering from seasonal depression have many treatment options available, both in consultation with a doctor and on your own at home. Here’s how to make your mental wellness a priority during this season.

Light Therapy (Natural AND Artificial)

One of the most important tools for combating seasonal depression is light. Increase your exposure to light, and many of your symptoms may dramatically improve. The NIMH explains that “[s]ince the 1980s, light therapy has been a mainstay for the treatment of SAD. It aims to expose people with SAD to a bright light every day to make up for the diminished natural sunshine in the darker months.”

If you can, take advantage of the morning hours outside and soak up as much natural light as possible. To supplement, buy a lightbox that’s designed to mimic outdoor light while minimizing UV rays. Using the lightbox for 20-30 minutes in the morning can help restore your body’s natural …read more

Source:: The Mercury News – Entertainment

      

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