As a traveling healthcare professional, your location during the winter can influence your health and daily lifestyle. Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD) is a seasonal depression that can occur primarily in the winter months, and it’s more common than you may think. These winter blues can affect your mood, energy, sleep, appetite, and concentration. Here are some reasons why SAD happens and ways you can beat seasonal affective disorder during your winter assignments.
There are a few factors that may play a role in causing this disorder. Those that live the farthest north or south of the equator are often affected due to shorter spans of daylight during winter. SAD may also occur due to the disruption of the circadian rhythm, also known as your body’s internal clock, which causes dysfunction in regulating when we feel alert or drowsy. Likewise, neurotransmitters in the brain, such as serotonin and melatonin, can be affected, causing changes to mood, energy levels, and sleep. While experiencing SAD can be a concern, there are ways to combat this disorder.
Transition into the winter months causes our exposure to sunlight to decrease due to the change in sunrise and sunset as well as colder temperatures making it difficult for outdoor activities. Because sunlight assists the brain in increasing serotonin production, this can be a contributing factor to mood changes. Natural sunlight also stimulates the body’s circadian rhythm and inhibits the production of melatonin, causing energy levels to remain higher.
To fight the adverse effects of decreased serotonin and hindered circadian rhythm, many people use light therapy. Light therapy offers the benefits of sunshine using bright, artificial light. The best way to start light therapy is with a light therapy lamp. Many therapy lamps or light boxes can be found on Amazon or local retailers like Target and Walmart and do not require a prescription to purchase. Light therapy is most effective when exposed for 20-60 minutes with cool-white fluorescent light and works best in the morning. We also recommend discussing light therapy with your doctor, especially if you have bipolar disorder, as it may trigger a manic episode. As a travel RN, LPN, or allied health professional your energy is essential, therefore using light therapy daily for the duration of the winter season can help you prevent SAD from impacting your life.
A dawn simulator is another effective method for travel therapy professionals to decrease symptoms of SAD by using simulated sunlight. The simulator is like an alarm clock; however, it wakes you up by a gradual increase in light, mimicking the sun coming through the window as it rises. You can set it for the time that most benefits your daily schedule to help you wake up more naturally.
The process begins about 30 to 45 minutes before your anticipated wake time to ease you out of sleep. The light used by a dawn simulator is full-spectrum light and is the closest to natural sunlight, unlike a traditional lamp. Being able to wake up to a sunny room instead of a dark one will help reset your circadian rhythm and improve your mood. A dawn simulator can be especially beneficial for a travel allied health professional when transitioning to a different location or time zone.
Visit Your Doctor
As with any troublesome health concerns, making an appointment with your doctor can be valuable whether you feel you are susceptible to or currently experiencing symptoms of seasonal depression. If you are already having symptoms, it is helpful for your physician if you curate a list of symptoms and depression patterns before your appointment. Your doctor will likely have screening questions to appropriately verify if you have SAD or another type of depression. If your doctor diagnoses you with SAD, they will be able to provide you with additional tips, treatment, and medication like anti-depressants depending on your needs. Visiting your doctor is an excellent way to find methods to help return to feeling like yourself if you are suffering from the effects of SAD.
Daily activity that requires you to move your body can play a significant role in the management and prevention of SAD symptoms. Regular exercise increases serotonin levels and can provide you with better-quality sleep. It can also boost your self-esteem, which can contribute to positive attitudes and improved moods overall. Outdoor exercise would be the best option because you can also benefit from the effects of increased sunlight exposure. However, if it’s not possible to go outdoors due to weather conditions, you can benefit from using a treadmill, elliptical, or stationary bike. Rhythmic exercise like walking to music or participating in a Zumba class can assist in fighting off depressive symptoms. Incorporating 30 minutes of activity five times a week is ideal in providing you with a multitude of benefits, but any little bit will help when dealing with seasonal depression.
Cognitive Behavioral Therapy
Like dealing with non-seasonal depression, seeking assistance from a therapist is an option to consider when deciding what to do about your symptoms. Specifically, Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT) can provide you with the understanding and tools you need for symptom management. CBT can help you adjust your thought patterns, attitudes, and behaviors throughout your day. As a travel PT or RN, dealing with stress is not a foreign concept, but when combined with the symptoms of SAD, it may become challenging to sort out on your own. Participating in CBT with your therapist can develop your ability to manage stress during the winter months and beyond.
Although dealing with seasonal affective disorder and the symptoms that accompany it can be discouraging, there are ways to fight off the negative impacts that it has on your life. It is imperative to find what benefits you and your lifestyle most while working your nursing or allied health contracts. Even as a healthcare professional, it’s always a good idea to discuss these options with your doctor if you are unsure if it is appropriate for you.