This Month In Health
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Health and Fitness News

Dark, Dreary, SAD

Yes, the weather can affect your mood. Here’s how.

As the beautiful fall colors begin to fade and the cold, dark, short days of winter set in, many people develop what’s known as seasonal affective disorder, also known as SAD. Unlike chronic depression, SAD doesn’t last forever. Rather, it typically begins as fall turns into winter and goes away when spring arrives.

If you suffer from SAD, you’re likely to deal with it each winter. Often blamed on the winter blues, seasonal affective disorder is a diagnosable mental disorder that affects thousands of people each year. Here’s what you should know about SAD.

SAD Symptoms

The holidays are a favorite time of year for many, but those with SAD are just trying to get through the day. As the season goes on, symptoms may worsen. Someone with seasonal affective disorder may feel depressed most days of the week, be in a bad mood, have difficulty concentrating, and feel low on energy. The things that once brought joy no longer do.

SAD may cause you to have trouble sleeping or you may sleep too much. You may feel hungry all the time or not have an appetite. You may have feelings of hopelessness or guilt. In some cases, SAD brings on suicidal thoughts. When you feel down for days at a time it may be time to see your doctor.

Why SAD?

Like other types of depression, the cause of SAD is largely unknown. Researchers suspect your circadian rhythm may be to blame. When you don’t see as much sunlight due to shorter, darker days, your body’s internal clock and melatonin levels are disrupted.

Less exposure to sunlight can also lead to lower levels of serotonin, a brain hormone that affects your mood and is linked to depression. And there may be a family and environment connection. You’re more likely to deal with SAD if you have a family history of depression, prior symptoms of depression, or live far from the equator where there’s less sunlight in the winter.

Help for SAD

If left untreated, SAD can worsen and cause you to withdraw from friends and family. SAD also can contribute to substance abuse, anxiety, an eating disorder, problems at work or in school, and suicidal thoughts or behaviors. For these reasons, it’s important to take the condition seriously and to get help. The sooner treatment begins, the greater its success.

Since lack of sunlight is a major contributing factor of SAD, a key treatment is light therapy. Also known as phototherapy, light therapy is a common, safe, and highly effective form of treatment. Basically, light therapy involves sitting near a special light box that resembles natural sunlight. This helps trigger a balance in brain chemicals that regulate mood. You can do the same thing for yourself by getting outside any time the sun peeks through.

Medication is a treatment option for severe cases. If you’re affected by SAD every year around the same time, your doctor may prescribe treatment before symptoms set in since it takes several weeks for antidepressants to fully work.
Psychotherapy, or talk therapy, is often paired with medication to treat SAD. A therapist can help you change your negative thoughts, empower you with healthy coping mechanisms, and teach stress management techniques.

If you’re dealing with feelings of depression during the winter months, do what you can to make your surroundings brighter and sunnier. Open the blinds and sit near a window. Spend time outside during the day, whether it’s sunny or not. Get regular exercise. With these steps, you can fight off SAD and enjoy life, all year round.