Seasonal Affective Disorder
What is Seasonal Affective Disorder?
Seasonal affective disorder, or SAD, is a specific type of depression that most commonly affects individuals during the winter months when there is less daylight. Less exposure to natural sunlight and the change in seasons may influence the body's melatonin and serotonin, two natural substances that play a role in sleep timing and mood. This disruption may lead to SAD.
SAD is more than just feeling melancholy or less energized during the dark and cold days of winter. A true diagnosis of SAD would involve consistent and strong symptoms of depression. Symptoms may include feeling sad, angry or irritable, lack of interest in activities, difficulty concentrating, fatigue, low energy, or suicidal thoughts. Other symptoms may include excessive tiredness and sleeping more than usual or a persistent craving for carbohydrates which often causes weight gain.
How can I treat SAD?
There are a variety of ways to treat SAD. One of the most common ways is light box therapy. It is recommended to start this treatment protocol in early autumn as a preventative measure. Light boxes mimic outdoor light using broad-spectrum ultraviolet light and research shows that sitting in front of a light box just 30 minutes a day can be helpful. They are extremely easy to use and do not have to be expensive. Just turn it on while you're drinking your morning coffee, eating breakfast, or while sitting in front of your computer. Here is a link to a lightbox available for purchase.
Medication and/or psychotherapy is another common treatment for SAD. Some people find it helpful to use medication to treat symptoms only during the winter months. It may be helpful to use a combination of medication and psychotherapy to help with SAD.
Self-care is also important to reduce your risk or treat SAD. Exercise, a consistent sleep/wake routine, healthy diet, and a limit on sugary foods and caffeine are also helpful in preventing or treating SAD.
If you think you are suffering from or developing SAD, it is important to reach out to a mental health provider who may be able to help or start to implement some of the treatment recommendations listed above. It is also important to note that SAD symptoms are seasonal and should start to decrease with the introduction of longer days and more sunlight in the Spring.
RMA of New York offers its patients complementary appointments with our mental health counselors. If you are a current patient and would like to learn more about our emotional support services, click here.