I’m SAD. Are you?
Here we are in mid-February. As I write this post, it is currently snowing outside and 27°F. Colorado weather is pretty crazy. Just two days ago, it was beautiful, sunny, and I went (jacketless!) to the park with my seven-month-old so he could try out a swing for the first time (he loved it, by the way). Now, it’s cold, snowing, and overcast. Days like today make me long for the summertime with abundant sunshine, longer daylight hours, and overall happiness.
I, like numerous other people, suffer from Seasonal Affective Disorder (or SAD, for short). SAD is a form of depression that occurs in relation to the change of seasons and reappears the same time every year. It is incredibly common and the Mayo Clinic¹ estimates there are more than 3 million reported cases of SAD every year just in the United States. Many people who struggle with SAD have the winter or fall-onset variety, but others have spring or summer-onset SAD. Some of the symptoms of this disorder may include:
Irritability, agitation, or anxiety
Tiredness or low energy
Problems getting along with other people
Hypersensitivity to rejection
Heavy, “leaden” feeling in the arms or legs
Oversleeping or insomnia
Appetite changes, especially a craving for foods high in carbohydrates or poor appetite
Weight gain or loss
Thankfully, SAD is easily treatable and manageable through different methods. One method I have found quite effective is good old-fashioned sunshine or using my light box regularly from my Verilux HappyLight². “Light therapy” or “phototherapy” is surprisingly effective for people who suffer from the winter or fall-onset type of SAD. Though more extensive research is needed to prove its benefits, the thought is that full-spectrum light sources like sunlight or light boxes that have specialized bulbs which mimic sunlight raise serotonin levels in the brain which in turn decrease depressive symptoms. Phototherapy begins working in just a few days for most people and has very few side effects.
Another treatment method for SAD includes antidepressant medication. As with any drug-related treatment, there are many more side effects, but if you can work with a doctor to find the correct type and dosage of medication that works for your particular body chemistry, it can be beneficial and help manage SAD symptoms fairly well.
Talking with a qualified psychotherapist is also very helpful when it comes to SAD. By learning how to manage symptoms through identifying and shifting thought and behavior patterns, and coping with stress, anxiety, depression, and sleep issues, SAD sufferers have found numerous advantages through therapy. A therapist can also help figure out if SAD is related to any other mental illnesses like Major Depressive Disorder, Bipolar Disorder, or Generalized Anxiety Disorder that may be co-occurring and worsening your health. If working with a mental health professional, make sure you choose someone well-versed in treating depression so you can receive the tools necessary for your healing.
If you suspect you or a loved one may be suffering from SAD, talk with a doctor or mental health professional for more information. Most importantly, if you or a loved one has frequent thoughts of death or suicide, please seek treatment immediately or visit your nearest hospital or emergency room.
¹Information taken from the Mayo Clinic website at: http://www.mayoclinic.org/diseases-conditions/seasonal-affective-disorder/basics/definition/con-20021047.
²I have not been compensated for mentioning the Verilux brand of light box for phototherapy purposes. I just happen to enjoy my own personal light.