The Change of Seasons Makes Me Feel SAD
Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD) is a type of depression that is connected to the seasons, mostly during the fall and winter. It is also referred to as the “winter blues”. SAD is a seasonal disruption of the mood. Symptoms appear in the winter beginning in September and resolve in the spring. The disorder is primarily connected to the length of days and the quality and quantity of light.
SAD is most common in young women, and effects more people in the North than in the South. According to the National Institutes of Health (NIH), studies show that 1 in 5 Americans suffer from SAD. Like all types of depression, SAD can be devastating to a person’s day to day life, but fortunately most people can be helped with easy changes in behavior or available therapies.
SAD has many of the same symptoms as other types of depression. Most people have a depressed mood, loss of interest in work, lack of energy, increased appetite, weight gain, increased sleep, excessive daytime sleepiness, social withdrawal, and poor concentration. Children will display general behavior disturbances. Because Seasonal Affective Disorder is a form of depression, it is important to seek medical care if your symptoms are extreme to the point that you have feelings of hopelessness or emptiness, you are unable to perform your daily living activities, if you have an unexplained change in your appetite, or have suicidal thoughts.
The causes or triggers of seasonal affective disorder are still unclear. Scientists confirm that chemical changes in the brain as a result of changes in the amount of sunlight are probably at the core of the disorder. Not surprisingly people who live in parts of the country that are dark or cloudy during the winter are more likely to have SAD.
Many lifestyle changes can help prevent Seasonal Affective Disorder. Things to try include spending at least 30 minutes outside every day, setting a timer on a light in the bedroom to go on early in the morning to imitate an earlier dawn, and increasing indoor light with regular lamps and higher wattage bulbs. If these do not improve your mood, more intensive bright light therapy might be recommended. Bright-light therapy relieves symptoms for a majority of people suffering from SAD. If further treatment is needed, antidepressant medications might be prescribed by your physician.
Unless we are willing to travel with the sun as the seasons change, we will have to accept that during the fall and winter we will have less light and the weather might keep us in doors more that we would like. If you know you are prone to Seasonal Affect Disorder be proactive and plan accordingly. Approach the season with a positive attitude and plan activities you enjoy. Try to spend time outdoors everyday. Participate in physical activities such as walking to relieve symptoms. And if prescribed take antidepressant medications as directed by your health care provider.