Weather got you down? Here’s how to combat seasonal affective disorder

For the 16 million Americans who suffer from depression — including residents of Springfield — its symptoms are an everyday struggle.

Everything from loss of energy to avoidance of social interactions affect those with depression, which is estimated to affect roughly 5 percent of the world’s population. But some who suffer from the illness find themselves particularly affected by changes in the weather.

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What is SAD?

Seasonal affective disorder, also known as SAD or winter depression, is a type of depression that affects people starting in late fall and early winter. It’s largely attributed to the decrease in the amount of sunlight we get during the latter half of the year, which has been known to trigger depressive episodes in people. If you’ve ever had a case of the “winter blues,” this was likely a mild case of seasonal affective disorder.

Signs and Symptoms

Sadness isn’t the only indicator of the disease, according to the Mayo Clinic. Symptoms such as fatigue, irritability and changes in appetite can also indicate something is wrong.

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The most common symptoms of SAD are oversleeping, increased sensitivity to social rejection, weight gain and difficulty concentrating.

Ways to help

All forms of depression, including SAD, should be diagnosed by a doctor, as it might involve prescription drugs to treat. But for those suffering from the illness, there are several different ways experts say you can try to cope without medications. The Mayo Clinic suggests some of the following methods.

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Brighten up the world around you: Opening the blinds and shutters in your home and sitting next to windows at home or in the office can do wonders to help your mood. Getting more natural light will help you maintain good levels of melatonin and seratonin — hormones tied to the onset of depression — and can make a world of difference in treatment. You can also buy a light box, which produces simulated natural light, but this usually requires consultation from your doctor.

Get outside: Going for a walk or simply sitting outside on a bench can help alleviate symptoms of SAD. Staying active and energized is important in the winter already, but it can also give you a much-needed boost when you’re feeling down. It’s best if you can get out and moving within two hours of waking up in the morning.

Phone a friend — or see a physician: Talking with peers or a qualified psychiatric professional about how you’re feeling is shown to help cope with symptoms related to the illness. Often times, a regular pep talk or agreeing to meet once or twice a week for coffee is enough to break some people out of their seasonal blahs.

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