Have you noticed that you have been feeling more down as we move into the winter months? Although mild changes in mood are normal while adjusting to seasonal changes, if you have been feeling especially down during the winter months, it might be time to consider whether you have Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD). SAD is a type of depression that comes and goes with the seasons, usually becoming more severe during the winter. SAD affects about 10 million Americans.
The primary mood symptoms of SAD include depression, anxiety, and apathy. People with SAD may feel hopeless and unmotivated, struggle to concentrate, and notices changes in sleep patterns (either being unable to sleep or sleeping too much), and withdrawing from social activities and normal routines. Physical symptoms can include changes in appetite, weight gain, and over-sensitivity to cold temperatures.
Although the exact cause of SAD is not known, it is believed to be related to changes in the amount of daylight we are exposed to. For many people, the lack of sunlight and reduced exposure to natural daylight can adversely affect their mental and emotional well-being. Additional contributing factors may include an imbalance of the hormone melatonin, reduced Vitamin D3, genetic factors, and other environmental factors.
Fortunately, there are effective ways to treat SAD, both on your own and with professional assistance. Phototherapy is one of the most popular treatments for SAD. It involved exposure to artificial intense white light, typically delivered via a light box, which helps to mimic natural outdoor light. Light therapy can help reset the body's clock, allowing sufferers to stick to healthier sleep patterns. There are also alarm clocks that mimic a sunrise by slowly increasing light, allowing you to wake up more naturally, even when it's still dark outside in the early mornings.
Exercise is another key treatment for SAD. Physical activity can help boost neurotransmitters, releasing endorphins into the body. This helps to reduce symptoms of depression, as well as heal the body and mind. Additionally, regular activity can help you restore a more healthy daily rhythm.
You can talk to your therapist about cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT). This therapy works to explore the connection between your thoughts and behaviors and how they can impact SAD symptoms. The goal is to understand and challenge negative thoughts or feelings and behaviors associated with SAD.
Finally, anti-depressant medications like SSRIs can be prescribed by you primary care doctor or psychiatrist to help manage SAD symptoms. Although these medications can take some time before noticeable improvements are seen, they may still be helpful in the long run.
If you suspect you have SAD, speak to your mental health provider, or you can request an appointment with one of our clinicians by emailing email@example.com.
Rebecca Love is a licensed clinical social worker in California, Colorado, South Dakota, and Rhode Island. She is a certified grief counselor, WPATH approved clinician, an EMDR provider, and certified CAMS-Care provider. She specializes in difficult life transitions, grief, gender identity exploration, and suicidal ideation.