Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD) is a form of depression. However, it is cyclical or seasonal. In other words, it’s a depression that only happens during the winter months. Notably, there is a rarer form of the condition called Reverse Seasonal Affective Disorder. In that case, the depression occurs during the summer.
That said, winter SAD is more typical. Research hasn’t uncovered the exact causes of this type of depression. However, the cold weather, the long dark days, and the pressure of the winter holidays may all contribute to SAD.
As the winter goes on, SAD may worsen. Therefore, it’s important for people struggling with SAD to seek help.
Symptoms of Seasonal Affective Disorder
The symptoms of SAD are similar to those for major depression. People with this type of depression experience feelings of sadness and/or anhedonia (lack of interest in things previously enjoyed.)
These symptoms interfere with function in one or more areas of life. For example, they cause trouble at work or in a person’s relationships. Additional symptoms include:
- Changes in eating habits. Usually, people with SAD will eat more, craving sugar and carbs, during the winter months.
- Changes in sleep patterns. Typically, people with SAD will sleep more during the winter.
- Difficulty focusing, concentrating, and/or making decisions
- Fatigue and energy loss
- Feelings of guilt, shame, and/or worthlessness
- Feelings of hopelessness
- Slowed speech and movement, although in some cases a person may get restless and move more instead of less
People with major depression experience these symptoms on most or all days for a period of two weeks or more. The same is true for people with SAD, with the following, additional criteria
- The issues are seasonal.
- This has happened at least twice in the previous two years.
- There is full remission of depression during other seasons.
Depression Treatment for SAD
People with SAD can benefit from treatment similar to that for any depression. For example, some people benefit from medication and/or therapy. Additionally, people frequently see symptom improvement when they try the following activities:
- Writing including keeping a gratitude journal
- Exercise, particularly out in nature if possible
- Healthy eating and limiting carbs, sugar, and alcohol
- Improving sleep hygiene; getting up and going to bed at the same time each day
Remember to be gentle with yourself. Try to stick to a healthy routine. Figure out what makes you feel best and incorporate those things into your daily life.
Light Therapy for SAD
In addition to regular depression treatment, people with SAD often benefit from light therapy. The lack of natural sunlight in the winter is likely a contributing cause to this type of depression. Therefore, getting that light helps lift dark moods.
Light therapy is a treatment involving the use of a special box that emits a very specific range of light. People with SAD may start their day with a half hour light therapy session. Generally, people continue the therapy daily through the end of winter. Then they resume it again at the end of fall, in order to prevent depression from returning the next winter.
You may also benefit from dawn simulators. This is a device that wakes you up in the morning using light that gradually increases in intensity. This type of light therapy is similar to the sun waking you up naturally. However, you can use it to wake up at any time your particular schedule requires.
In addition to light therapy, it helps to get as much direct sunlight as possible. Of course, this is challenging in the winter. However, if you can adapt your schedule to accommodate this then it helps. For example, bundle up and eat your lunch outdoors.
Of course, therapy is a key component in dealing with any type of depression. I’m here to help. Please reach out for a consultation today.
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