By Aimee Meyer, LPC, Delta Center, LLC
Seasonal Affective Disorder is a type of depression that is related to the changes in the seasons. It typically begins and ends around the same time each year and is related to the amount of natural sunlight. Symptoms start in the fall, especially after Daylight Savings Time ends, and end in the Spring. Seasonal Affective Disorder affects over a half million people every year, and “Winter Blues”, a more mild form of SAD, affects even more.
It is believed that SAD may be an effect of the seasonal light variations in humans. As the light changes, our “biological clocks” shift in a manner that may be out of synch with our daily schedules.
Serotonin is a brain chemical responsible for keeping your mood stable. Scientists at the University of Copenhagen found that volunteers with SAD had more serotonin transporters in the winter than in the summer. The higher level of activity decreases the serotonin in your brain and makes you feel more depressed.
Melatonin, a sleep related hormone, has also been linked to SAD. This hormone is produced by the body at increased levels in the dark. When days are shorter your body produces more of this chemical resulting in feeling tired, less motivated, and difficult to wake up.
A diagnosis of SAD can be made after experiencing three consecutive winters of the following symptoms if they are followed by a complete remission of symptoms in the spring and summer months:
- Depression, sadness, guilt, hopelessness
- Tiredness and low energy or low motivation
- Problems getting along with other people or wanting to avoid social contact
- Heavy feeling in the arms or legs
- Problems sleeping or oversleeping
- Appetite changes, especially craving foods high in carbohydrates
More severe symptoms of SAD include
- Suicidal thoughts or behavior
- Social withdrawal
- School or work problems
- Substance abuse
Light therapy In light therapy you sit in front of a special light therapy box that emits a light up to ten times the intensity of normal domestic lighting. The device most often used today is a bank of white fluorescent lights on a metal reflector. Your doctor would be able to help you choose the right one for you.
Spending time outside or arranging your home or workspace to allow more natural light inside could also help symptoms of SAD.
Talk therapy is another option to treat SAD. Therapy can help you identify and change negative thoughts and behaviors. You will also learn healthy ways to cope with SAD as well as how to manage stress.
Exercise and other types of physical activity help to improve mood. Being more fit can make you feel better about yourself. Also, exercise helps to relieve stress and anxiety which can also increase SAD symptoms.
Medication in the form of an antidepressant for treatment with SAD, especially if the symptoms are more severe. Your doctor or
psychiatrist will work to choose the right medication for you.
You don’t have to feel this way all winter. There are people and treatments that can help you feel better. If you can get control of your symptoms before they get worse, you may be able to heal off serious changes in mood, appetite, and energy levels. For more information visit www.csifdl.org.