Seasonal  Affect Disorder or SAD as it is known, is a type of depression that is related to the time of year. It usually begins sometime in the fall or early winter months and continues through the winter months. It can also occur during the summer months but that is not as common. Seasonal affect disorder is actually a subtype of depression that comes and goes based on the seasons. It can include:

  • feeling sad most if the day, on most days
  • feelings of hopelessness and helplessness that increase as the season progresses
  • Low energy
  • Problems either sleeping all the time (hypersomnia) or not being able to sleep (insomnia)
  • Changes in appetite that can include losing one’s appetite or eating too much.
  • Feeling sluggish and irritable
  • Having trouble concentrating and making decisions
  • Can include thoughts of death and/or suicide

Causes of Seasonal  Affect Disorder are not known for sure but it is believed that certain factors contribute to it. Those factors include:

  • Reduced level of sunlight in the fall and winter may contribute to SAD. The decrease in sunlight is thought to affect the body’s circadian rhythm and lead to feelings of depression.
  • A drop in serotonin which is a neurotransmitter that affects mood and a sense of well-being is believed to contribute to SAD also.
  • Changes in season may affect the melatonin levels in the body leading to a disturbance in sleep patterns and mood.

It is important to take seasonal affect disorder seriously and to seek help by seeing your primary care physician if symptoms are distressing and interfere with your functioning on a day-to-day basis. Treatment for seasonal affect disorder may include light therapy, medications, and psychotherapy.  Light therapy involves sitting by a special light therapy box several minutes a day.  Additionally there are some lifestyle changes that may be effective. These include:

  • Open your curtains and spend time sitting close to bright windows
  • Get outside by taking a walk or doing other activities
  • Exercising regularly
  • Eat healthy, whole foods
  • Practice stress management strategies
  • Develop and nurture a strong, positive support group

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