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4 Ways to Manage Seasonal Affective Disorder with Hypothyroidism

Learn how to distinguish Seasonal Affective Disorder and hypothyroidism, and how to manage both.
4 Ways to Manage Seasonal Affective Disorder with Hypothyroidism
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The "winter blues" can come for us all, but if you struggle with hypothyroidism, you might feel a little bluer. Let's look at some ways to stay feeling like yourself in the coming months.

The fall and winter are coming up, and many people get excited about pumpkin spice lattes, holidays, and snow. The air is a little crisper; the leaves are a little crunchier. However, some people find that the colder seasons bring a specific kind of depression with them. Seasonal Affective Disorder, or SAD, is a clinically diagnosable depressive disorder that affects roughly 10 million Americans, with women estimated to be four times more likely to be diagnosed than men. SAD is primarily attributed to the shorter days and less sunlight. Still, several factors can contribute to seasonal affective disorder. 

Common symptoms of Seasonal Affective Disorder include: 

  • Extreme fatigue
  • Changes in appetite
  • Feelings of hopelessness
  • Trouble with or excessive sleeping
  • New disinterest in hobbies or activities 

Paloma Health's Dr. Sean Zager suggests that people with hypothyroidism can also have a more challenging time in the winter, saying, "Thyroid function, in particular, has been shown to slow down in the winter, so there may be a two-pronged cause for many to feel more sluggish than usual." 

Thyroid diseases or other conditions are frequently misdiagnosed as SAD, so it's essential to get your thyroid levels tested. Sometimes, people who typically don't have a thyroid problem can develop subclinical hypothyroidism in the winter as TSH levels can rise in the cold.

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So if you struggle with hypothyroidism and Seasonal Affective Disorder, what should you do? Ahead, we look at four tactics that can help manage both conditions in the colder months.

4 ways to manage seasonal affective disorder with hypothyroidism

Get some light

One of the leading causes of SAD is lack of sun exposure. Since the days are shorter and colder, people spend more time inside and out of the sun. It's essential to get plenty of direct sunlight during the day, outdoors if possible. Take some time to bundle up, take a walk, or even sit outside with your morning coffee or other caffeine-free hot beverages. If you work from home, consider moving your desk closer to the window. While direct sunlight is best, your body can still get vitamin D through the glass.

If you aren't able to get enough natural sunlight, light therapy can be very effective.  Studies have shown that sun lamps at the correct frequencies and exposures improve both serotonin and norepinephrine levels. Bright white light therapy with a lamp of at least 10,000 lux for at least 30 minutes a day can significantly improve symptoms of SAD, mainly when used in conjunction with other tactics.

There are a variety of light therapy devices you can try, from traditional lamps to therapy visors that shine the light directly on your face. You can set a light on your desk and soak in rays while you work. However, light therapy probably isn't for you if you have light-sensitive skin or eyes or another health condition that makes you sensitive to light (like lupus). Be sure to talk to your doctor before starting a sunlight regimen.

Take your vitamins

While most vitamins are found naturally in food, vitamin D is primarily absorbed through the skin from sunlight. Suppose you're spending less time inside, and your time outside is bundled up. In that case, your body probably isn't creating enough vitamin D. Moreover, recent research suggests an association between low vitamin D levels and autoimmune thyroid diseases like Hashimoto's. If you're struggling with SAD, your doctor will probably advise you to take a vitamin D supplement. If you're not a candidate for light therapy, it's more imperative that you keep your vitamin D levels up. Additionally, taking thyroid supplements can help your existing thyroid care plan to help mitigate symptoms from both angles.

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Speak to a professional

It's important to remember that SAD is a type of depression. Like its cousin, major depression disorder, SAD is often treated in conjunction with therapy. Moreover, because the symptoms of hypothyroidism often mimic depression, different kinds of therapy can help alleviate symptoms of both. According to Dr. Zager, "It's also important to follow up with talk therapy during those months and talking with your doctor about antidepressants." If you're struggling with SAD as a hypothyroid patient, talk to your doctor about the benefits of either talk therapy or cognitive behavior therapy to manage the more difficult symptoms. Fortunately, there are various online therapy options, so if you're struggling to go outside, your therapy can come to you.

Suppose you have a thyroid condition and have been prescribed an antidepressant. In that case, you will need to be more aware of your thyroid symptoms. Some antidepressants can affect your thyroid hormone levels, so it's essential to keep your thyroid doctor informed if you feel your symptoms are worsening. 

Get active

It can feel more challenging to exercise; however, this is when it's most important to keep moving. Make sure that you're staying active, as it can be one of the most effective treatments for SAD. If you're having a hard time finding the motivation to exercise, Dr. Zager says that he will "talk to patients about activities that give them meaning—like volunteering in their community or working on a home renovation project." These kinds of activities can not only get you up and about, but they can also treat other depressive symptoms by providing a positive outlet for specific negative thoughts.

There are also many other options for staying active in the colder months. If your SAD presents itself earlier in the year, consider going for a hike or a trail run in a place with lots of trees. As the winter gets colder, try to encourage yourself into more activities. A gym membership or ski pass can keep you active despite the snow.

SAD and hypothyroidism can be closely related, so you need to monitor yourself and keep your doctor informed of any changes you make. However, if you find yourself struggling with seasonal depression, these simple tips can help to alleviate symptoms, so you're not fighting two battles at once.


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Katie Wilkinson

Katie Wilkinson, previously serving as the Head of Content and Community at Paloma Health, fervently explores the nexus between healthcare and technology. Living with an autoimmune condition, she's experienced firsthand the limitations of conventional healthcare. This fuels both her personal and professional commitment to enhancing patient accessibility to superior care.

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