“I have performed 10 interventions within the past two weeks,” said Jenkins, who is a clinical psychologist and marriage and family therapist at Kennridge Psychological Associates in Sandy Springs.
He said the most severe patients are either hospitalized for treatment for serious depression or high anxiety.
“It’s every fall, once daylight saving time starts and when we head into holiday time,” he said. “As days shorten, we generally see an uptick in depressive symptomology.
“Seasonal affective disorder is directly related to the amount of light a person is receiving. Light stimulates certain parts of the brain to produce certain amounts of neurochemicals.”
He said another large factor is family issues, like divorce, grief and empty nests.
“We tend to see there is always generally a trigger,” he said.
Symptoms range from weight gain to social withdrawal to lack of drive, Jenkins said, and mostly occur in people who are already depressed but sometimes in those who are not.
He said there are four pieces of advice he gives to patients suffering from seasonal affective disorder.
One is to identify the stress factors and to get all feelings in the open.
Second, is light therapy, he said, and people can buy a full spectrum light bulb or fluorescent light for $30, to sit under on overcast days.
“It triggers brain activation mechanisms in compensation for the fact that the days are shorter,” he said.
“Three, stay connected with friends and family. Most people with [the disorder] are at some level of feeling isolated.”
He also recommends walking for at least 30 minutes three to four times a week, and staying away from refined sugars and flours and processed foods.
“Weight gain comes with seasonal affective disorder,” Jenkins said. “If you’re gaining weight, you’re self-esteem is affected and you’re feeling worse about yourself.”
Nutrition definitely ties in to seasonal affective disorder, said registered dietician Rachel Brandeis, of Alpharetta.
“If people are going to binge or overeat, they’ll choose sugar-based or starchy-based foods. … They can impact serotonin levels in the brain and control moods,” she said. “People feel a benefit when they eat the foods because they want a boost but typically crash afterwards. Then, they feel exhausted because they’ve pushed their blood and insulin levels way up.”
Brandeis recommends people do not set unrealistic weight loss goals during the holidays because it often leads to feeling of failure and low self-esteem.
“There’s too much temptation around,” she said. “I tell people to keep as normal an exercise routine as possible. … If you know you’re going to go overboard, at least you can balance it out.”
Brandeis also recommends staying away from holiday beverages, like eggnog and other mixed drinks, and sticking to a few beers or glasses of wine.
“Never go to a party starving, especially one with a buffet” she said. “Always have a little piece of protein and carb [beforehand], whether it’s a little peanut butter and banana or a Greek yogurt and a little bit of granola.”
Brandeis said to stay away from creamy foods, anything in puff pastries, and foods you can eat all year long, like cheese and crackers.
“Eat things you only see during holidays,” she said. “I wouldn’t waste calories on boring food.”