Brian Ayer is Ravenwood Health’s LPCC-S Director of Adult Intensive Services.

Editor’s note: Every month, the experts at Ravenwood Health write about an aspect of mental health. This month, Brian Ayer, LPCC-S Director of Adult Intensive Services, shares how people who live in northeast Ohio can prevent seasonal affective disorder, also called SAD. 

It’s almost winter here in northeast Ohio, which means that the days are getting shorter and the nights are getting longer. These times can trigger feelings of low mood, lack of motivation, loss of interest and fatigue. Combine that with the holidays, individuals can feel even more stressed out and overworked and have a tendency to sleep less and eat more, resulting in a lower mood. Social gatherings, the potential financial burden of buying gifts, and the pressure to feel in the holiday mood when in reality you are not feeling your best can trigger sadness and anxiety. While many celebrate the arrival of wintry weather, for those who have seasonal affective disorder (SAD), this time of the year is more a cause for avoidance than celebration. SAD is a form of depression that comes and goes with the season. As the sun sets and stays down, so does a person’s mood. Symptoms of SAD can include:

  • Feelings of sadness or hopelessness
  • Fatigue and a tendency to oversleep
  • Change in appetite leading to weight gain
  • Loss of energy
  • Irritability and increased sensitivity
  • Difficulty concentrating
  • Thoughts of suicide

SAD impacts about 3 to 6 million Americans. It’s much more common in women than in men and increases the further away you get from the equator. Luckily, SAD is treatable and one of the most recommended treatments is exercise.

Why exercise? Exercise is beneficial for anyone who is suffering from low mood. Exercise releases endorphins, which reduce pain and increase feelings of well-being. Exercise also increases your metabolism, which helps improve your energy levels. Other benefits include increased self-esteem, improved sleep, and reduced anxiety.

What types of exercise? There are many ways to add exercise to your routine. These include joining a group exercise class, working out at home to exercise DVDs, using a piece of cardio equipment, joining a gym, engaging in a seasonal sport, and finding ways to add exercise to your daily activities. Exercising with others can also be helpful. Not only does it provide you with motivation to keep working out, but the social interaction can also help combat SAD symptoms.

How much exercise? You don’t have to become a marathon runner or elite athlete to get the benefits of exercise. Even 10 minutes a day can help. It doesn’t have to be a formal exercise program; active housework or other similar activity also provides the benefits of exercise. If you find that you are experiencing SAD symptoms and they don’t improve or they interfere with your life, work or relationships, talk with your health care provider.

Brian is currently reading SPARK: The Revolutionary New Science Of Exercise And The Brain by Dr. John Ratey, M.D.