Feeling SAD? You’re not alone. About five to 10 percent of the population develops Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD), which is different from the “winter blues.” Gail Snyder with Mercy Concern provides an overview of SAD along with seven everyday measures you can take.
During the shortened days of autumn and winter, some people find themselves feeling increasingly tired and cranky, eating too much, and wanting to veg out on the couch. It’s the time of year between five and 10 percent of the population develop Seasonal Affective Disorder, or SAD, a form of depression that usually starts in early fall and goes away in the spring (though there is also a summer variation). It affects more people who live in the northern latitudes and is believed to be related to biological changes from decreased sunlight.
SAD Symptoms: Not to Be Confused with “Winter Blues”
According to the National Institute of Mental Health, reduced light affects the brain’s melatonin and serotonin levels, as well as the body’s levels of vitamin D. These changes can lead to the symptoms associated with SAD, which include:
- Sleeping too much
- Overeating, especially sweets and starches
- Fatigue, low energy
- Social withdrawal
- Weight gain
It often begins with mild difficulties in early autumn, with the symptoms increasing steadily until dissipating as the days get longer in the spring. SAD should not be confused with the “winter blues,” which has similar symptoms, but is not as severe. SAD can affect children, as well as adults, and can cause severe impairment in the ability to function at work, home, school, and with family and friends. People who have major depressive disorder or bipolar disorder are at increased risk for developing SAD.
Effective Treatments for SAD
There are effective treatments for SAD. These include: light therapy, medication, counseling (psychotherapy or “talk therapy”), and vitamin D. Light therapy is very effective and involves sitting near special lights for a short time each day. Medication can be very helpful and, for some people, can be taken only during the needed months. Light therapy and medication may trigger a manic episode if a person has bipolar disorder, whether it has been treated in the past or not.
Counseling, especially cognitive behavioral therapy, has been shown to be very effective for SAD, with a longer lasting remission rate than light therapy or medication. Although people with SAD generally have low levels of vitamin D, the evidence for treatment with supplementation with the vitamin is mixed at this time, with some studies showing it effective and others not.
7 Everyday Measures to Help SAD
- Make sure to get sunshine every day, especially in the mornings, either by spending time outside or sitting by a bright window
- Exercise by doing something active you enjoy (even better if it’s outside!)
- Spend time with friends and loved ones—again, doing something you enjoy
- Make your environment brighter by opening blinds, trimming trees, and moving anything that blocks the light
- Whenever possible, sit close to windows
- Eat healthfully and make the best choices you can each day
- Make sure your self-talk is positive and encouraging!
Remember there’s help available if you’re feeling SAD. Call 330-489-1415 to schedule an appointment with a counselor at Concern: EAP or call your primary care physician. Good news: spring will be here soon!