When it comes to seasons changing there seems to be two prominent camps, those who long for an endless summer, and those who can’t wait to carve pumpkins and don sweaters. The a chance the former camp may dread the end of summer for physiological reasons, either consciously or unconsciously, as they may be impacted by Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD).
More than just a case of the “winter blues,” as the days get shorter and we’re in the dark longer, many experience a distinct change in mood and energy. This isn’t just a casual shift to being more blue. SAD has the same symptoms as clinical depression, just slightly slightly less symptoms presenting, in a distinct cycle associated with the seasons.
The American Psychological Association says of SAD, “It is a type of depression that lasts for a season, typically the winter months, and goes away during the rest of the year.”
Symptoms of SAD
- Pervasively sad mood
- Loss of interest
- Craving more starches and sweets
- Difficulty or excessive sleeping
- Weight Gain
- Thoughts of despair, hopelessness, or suicide
Individuals who experience two to four of these feelings intensely for more than one winter, may be experiencing SAD. It should also be noted individuals who experience SAD are at higher risk for being diagnosed with clinical depression. Once that occurs treatments such as psychotherapy, medication, or even alternatives like Transcranial Magnetic Stimulation, should be considered.
Dr Ryan Wakim, a psychiatrist based in West Virginia notes many individuals experience SAD tend to shrug it off, especially if they don’t already see someone for depression.
“Individuals who struggle with these seasonal patterns are more likely to develop a major depressive disorder if it’s left untreated,” Wakim said. “It may not be harmful for some, but for others it could be, so it’s better to be proactive than reactive.”
Personalized Treatment for SAD
Wakim suggests light therapy with a light box or other bright lamp is probably one of the easiest and most effective forms of therapy. Exposure to light stops our bodies from producing melatonin, the hormone it’s believed is overproduced in individuals with SAD. When you don’t receive enough natural light, light boxes can help supplement it. Though light boxes can be expensive, so while it’s less pleasant to be outside in the colder months, those with SAD should attempt to still try to get some natural sunlight every day. Otherwise, Wakim suggests using a light box once a day for at least 30 minutes, or more if possible.
Other treatments include increasing Vitamin D intake, a vitamin your body naturally produces when you experience sunlight, as well as Omega 3s and even CBD oils. It’s also helpful to assure you stay active, and find things that interest you or where you can give back. This will help keep your mind on more positive thinking.
The American Psychological Association states that research shows that cognitive behavioral therapy, can effectively treat SAD, and may have more long-term benefits than light therapy or antidepressant medication. Noting, “A psychologist can help you identify problem areas and then develop an action plan for changing them. They are uniquely trained to understand the connection between the mind and body. They can offer strategies as to how to adjust your goals so that they are attainable, as well as help you change unhealthy behaviors and address emotional issues.”
If you or a loved notices any signs of SAD be sure to be proactive and following these guidelines to help prevent a deeper psychological impact.