Do the Changing Seasons Bring You Down?

January 13, 2015 Providence Health Team

SADLampWhy the long face? It could be the longer nights of fall and winter that have you feeling down. If you suffer from depression when the seasons change, you might have Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD).

What is Seasonal Affective Disorder?

Seasonal Affective Disorder, or SAD, is a type of depression you get at the same time each year, usually when the seasons change. You can experience SAD during the summer months, but it’s more common during the winter. Typically, SAD begins in September or October and goes away in April or May.

It’s not clear what causes SAD, but experts believe that people who live in areas where the winter nights are long and the daylight hours are short are more susceptible to SAD. Decreased exposure to sunlight can affect your circadian rhythm, or biological clock, and that can lead to feelings of depression. Serotonin, a chemical in the brain that affects mood, and melatonin, a hormone that affects sleep patterns and mood, are also affected when sunlight is at a premium.

Typically, women are affected more often than men, and the chances of getting SAD for the first time diminish as you get older. If you have a close family relative who’s had SAD, you could be at risk, too.

What are the Symptoms?

If the changing seasons seem to sap your energy and lower your mood, you might have SAD. Check out some of these other symptoms and talk to your primary care provider if you have two or more.

  • Loss of interest in things you once found enjoyable
  • Low energy and feeling moody, grumpy or anxious
  • Oversleeping and feeling more tired than usual during the day
  • Craving and eating more carbohydrates
  • Weight gain
  • Difficulty concentrating
  • Lower sex drive

How Do You Treat SAD?

If you feel depressed and moody at the same time each year, don’t brush it off as the winter blues. You could be suffering from SAD, and there are many useful treatments to get you through.

Light therapy is often used to combat SAD. During light therapy, or phototherapy, you sit in front of a specialized “light box” and are exposed to bright light. This light mimics natural light, and it’s thought to stimulate brain chemicals associated with mood. Light therapy is usually done in the morning for 30 minutes or more.

Another form of light therapy is called Dawn Simulation. Each morning, a slowly increasing light comes on simulating the sunrise.

Light therapy has few side effects and is usually the first choice of treatment for SAD. Light therapy requires discipline – it must be used every day to keep your depression at bay. However, it’s highly effective and it usually only takes a week or so before you start feeling better.

Some medical professionals prescribe antidepressant medication or suggest counseling as a means of treating SAD. Talk to your primary care provider to determine which treatment is right for you.

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