It’s about this time every year I start feeling a little sad for no good reason. A few years ago I thought it was the lull after the holidays of getting back to ‘normal’ life, but when it stretched a few months longer than I felt comfortable with I knew it was something else. After doing a little research and talking to my doctor, I came to the conclusion that I might be suffering from a little Seasonal Affective Disorder (often called SAD). SAD is a type of depression that occurs at the same time every year, typically in the late fall or early winter months, making you feel moody and drained. The exact causes are still unknown, but are most likely related to genetics, age and/or your body’s natural chemical makeup.
Symptoms Might Include:
Depression, hopelessness, anxiety, loss of energy, social withdrawal, oversleeping, loss of interest in activities you once enjoyed, appetite changes (craving foods high in carbohydrates), weight gain and difficulty concentrating or processing information.
Circadian Rhythm. Your body’s natural biological clock that tells you when you should sleep or be awake, known as the circadian rhythm, is often disrupted by the reduced level of sunlight in the fall and winter leading to feelings of depression.
Melatonin Levels. The natural hormone melatonin is important for establishing sleep patterns and mood, but the melatonin levels are often disturbed during the change of seasons.
Serotonin Levels. Serotonin is a chemical found in the brain that acts as a neurotransmitter and affects mood. The reduction of sunlight can cause a drop in serotonin levels leading to feelings of depression.
Light Therapy. Light therapy mimics outdoor light and causes a change in the brain chemicals. Also known as phototherapy, it is simple, safe and has few if any side effects. You simply sit in front of a specialized light therapy box to expose yourself to bright light. It is important to talk to your doctor about this form of treatment and to carefully consider which type of light therapy box might be right for you prior to purchasing.
Antidepressants. Antidepressants are commonly prescribed to treat seasonal affective disorder. Talk to your doctor about which one might be right for you Paxil, Zoloft, Prozac, Bupropion etc.
There are other measures you can take on your own to help prevent and treat SAD. Try spending some time in the sun within two hours of getting up in the morning. Open the blinds, sit next to the bright windows, take a long walk, eat lunch at a park, or trim tree branches that block the sunlight. Even on cold or cloudy days, the outdoor light can help. Other alternative therapies such as yoga, acupuncture, meditation, or massage therapy can also be effective in reducing stress and improving overall mental health.
A light therapy box was the simple solution for me. If you find you are consistently down in the winter months, talk to your doctor about SAD. A little more light could be all you need!
Research & Community Education