The ABCs of SAD – Seasonal Affective Disorder



Courtesy Sofia Francesca Photography

Around this time of year I begin to hear from people who have trouble with what we call Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD).

“I always have trouble this time of year. It’s the season. I can’t take it.”

What distinguishes SAD from regular run-of-the-mill depression is the time of onset, between September and October, when the days become significantly shorter in certain latitudes and the severity of symptoms. The further away from the equator you live, the less sun there is in the winter. Behavioral scientists believe there is a change in brain chemistry in people susceptible to SAD. Something about how serotonin is processed messes up sleep cycles and mood.

Symptoms are:

~ Feeling sad, grumpy, moody, or anxious.
~ Losing interest in your usual activities.
~ Eating more and craving carbohydrates, such as bread and pasta.
~ Gaining weight.
~ Sleeping more and feel drowsy during the daytime.

People with SAD report feeling relief from symptoms around April or May, as the days’ sunlight increases.

Some of us just have the blahs around this time of year, not really bad SAD but still not good. Dr. Goldstein, who writes the Mildfulness and Psychotherapy blog suggests 5 Keys to Preparing for Fall and Winter Blues.

1. Mindfulness training 

2. Exercise

3. Light therapy

4. Gratitude list

5. Connecting with friends and family

How is more serious SAD treated?  Best practices for the treatment of SAD includes:

~ Bright light treatment. For this treatment, you sit in front of a “light box” for half an hour or longer, usually in the morning. Light therapy works well for most people with SAD, and it is easy to use. You may start to feel better within a week or so after you start light therapy. But you need to stick with it and use it every day until the season changes. If you don’t, your depression could come back.
~ Dawn simulation. For this treatment, a dim light goes on in the morning while you sleep, and it gets brighter over time, like a sunrise.
~ Antidepressants. These medicines can improve the balance of brain chemicals that affect mood. Consult with a board certified psychiatrist.
~ Counseling. Some types of counseling, such as cognitive-behavioral therapy, can help you learn more about SAD and how to manage your symptoms.

To learn more about SAD read:

WebMD on SAD

About the Winter Blues

Research Updates: Seasonal Affective Disorder Treatments

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