Coping with Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD)

Coping with Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD)

The air has a crisp chill, the days are getting shorter, the leaves are changing… here in the northern hemisphere it’s fall and quickly headed towards winter. Many enjoy planning Halloween costumes and donning cozy sweaters. But for others the change in seasons and reduced sunlight means increased depression. For today’s blog we’ll share some information about Seasonal Affective Disorder, how to spot it, and some tips for treatment.

What is seasonal affective disorder (SAD)?

Seasonal Affective Disorder, or SAD, is a type of depression that develops and resolves with the seasons. The “affective” part of SAD refers to the fact that the symptoms have to do with mood and emotions. Most commonly, SAD appears in the fall as the days are getting shorter and improves in the spring, when daylight increases. Some people experience SAD in the summer, but the most frequently seen type develops in fall/winter. The symptoms of SAD are similar to those of non-seasonal depression. They include things like low energy, sad mood, feelings of hopelessness, difficulty concentrating, and sleep problems. What makes SAD unique from other forms of depression is the seasonal pattern. Risk factors for SAD include being female, living far from the equator, having a mood disorder, and having a family history of SAD.

How do I know if I have SAD?

The key is to identify the seasonal pattern of your symptoms. Mood tracking or journaling can be helpful for this. It might also be that when you look back, you notice that you often feel tired, low, and struggle to (or can’t) get out of the house during winter. Some people with SAD experience increased appetite and crave carbohydrates. While it is normal to experience ups and downs, if you feel that you aren’t yourself for days at a time, it’s worth talking to your doctor.

How is SAD treated?

SAD may be caused, at least in part, by disruption of circadian rhythms due to reduced daylight. As a result, light therapy is one of the treatments most commonly used. Light therapy involves sitting very close to a specially designed lamp in the morning. This “phototherapy” may help get your biological clock back on track. There is some debate about the efficacy of light therapy, but the side effects are minimal. Talk to your doctor about light therapy, which lamp is best for you, and when to use it.

Like “regular depression,” SAD is also treated using antidepressant medications and psychotherapy. Some research has also found that low-dose melatonin can help improve mood. Due to variations amongst individuals and sleep-wake problems, talk to your doctor before beginning any supplements.