What is Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD)?


SAD is a type of depression that develops during the dark and cloudy grays days of winter.  Surprisingly, this depression doesn’t surface until the spring and early summer, after the winter months have sapped our energy and lowered our moods.


What are the symptoms of Seasonal Affective Disorder?


While loss of energy and depression are most common, other symptoms can include:


  • Hopelessness
  • Anxiety
  • Heavy feeling of arms and legs
  • Oversleeping
  • Social withdrawal
  • Weight gain
  • Loss of interest in activities you once enjoyed



What causes SAD and what are the theories behind it?


The specific cause of SAD is still unknown. Generally it seems to affect certain patients more than others. A person with a genetic predisposition or mental health issues is most vulnerable. The common theories explaining SAD are:


  • Biological clock (circadian rhythm):  Reduced levels of light will disrupt the body’s internal clock which can lead to depression.
  • Serotonin levels:  Serotonin is a neurotransmitter that effects mood and gets a boost from sunlight. These levels may drop in the winter and trigger depression.
  • Melatonin levels: Melatonin is a hormone that helps control our sleep patterns and moods. Production of this hormone can be reduced during the winter months which can disrupt sleep and trigger low moods.


Who is most at risk?


  • Females
  • Those with a family history of SAD
  • Those with clinical depression or bipolar disorder
  • Those living very far away from the equator


How to know if you meet the criteria for suffering from Seasonal Affective Disorder?


You might be diagnosed with SAD if:


  • You have experienced a depression or fatigue in at least two consecutive years around the same time of the year
  • The depression seemed to go away suddenly when the season changed
  • There are no life-related explanations for your depression or mood changes


What are the treatment options for SAD?


  • Light therapy:  A very easy way to see if you have this disorder is to buy an inexpensive full spectrum light bulb that fits in your vanity and note whether your mood improves somewhat or completely.  This may be adequate treatment for some people.  If your mood only improves slightly then you may want to talk to your doctor about a high-quality light therapy box.
  • Medication:  Herbal supplements like 5HTP can increase serotonin and melatonin levels for maintaining a healthy sleep pattern. Other vitamins and herbs can assist in depression disorders.  Pharmaceuticals options include Paxil, Zoloft, Prozac and Effexor.
  • Talk therapy:  Helps teach coping mechanisms for SAD.
  • Get a massage! The healing power of touch has been shown to lift some of the symptoms of SAD while giving much needed relief to tired achy muscles.


What can I do to prevent SAD?


  • Exercise regularly 4 times a week for a minimum of 30-45 minutes.
  • Getting outside in the sun for as little as 10 to 15 minutes can help prevent SAD.
  • Replace your traditional vanity light with a full-spectrum bulb to reap its advantages while getting ready for school or work in the morning.
  • Supplement with Vitamin D 2,000 iu daily. Increased dosages should only be taken if recommended by your doctor.  Vitamin D supplements are especially important if you wear sunscreen regularly.

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