When the days grow colder and shorter, millions of people with Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD) get depressed.
Weather often affects people’s moods. Sunlight breaking through clouds can lift our spirits while a dull, rainy day may make us feel a little gloomy.
While noticeable, these shifts in mood generally do not affect our ability to cope with daily life. Some people, however, are vulnerable to a type of depression that follows a seasonal pattern.
For them, the shortening days of late autumn are the beginning of a type of clinical depression that can last until spring. This condition is called “Seasonal Affective Disorder.”
It is common for people to complain of feeling down, having less energy, putting on a few pounds, and having difficulty getting out of bed in the morning throughout the dark, short days of winter.
But people suffering with SAD experience these and other symptoms to a degree that they can’t function normally. They often feel chronically depressed and fatigued, perform poorly at work or school, and may want to avoid social contact.
They may experience substantial increases in sleep and irresistible carbohydrate cravings (for sweets, starches, or both).
Any individual, however, need not show all of these symptoms—and sometimes a symptom actually is the opposite of the norm, such as insomnia as opposed to excessive sleep.
If you feel depressed for long periods during the autumn and winter, if your sleep and appetite patterns change dramatically, and you find yourself thinking about suicide, you should see your family doctor.
There is effective treatment for SAD.
People with mild symptoms can benefit from spending more time outdoors during the day and by arranging their environments so they receive maximum sunlight.
Exercise relieves stress, builds energy, and increases your mental and physical well-being.
Many people with SAD respond well to exposure to bright, artificial light. “Photo therapy,” or light therapy, involves sitting under a special fluorescent light box or panel once a day.
A health care professional should be consulted before beginning light therapy.
For people who are more severely affected by SAD, antidepressant medications are safe and effective in relieving symptoms. Counselling and therapy, especially short-term treatments, also may be helpful.
Increasing your exposure to light, as well as monitoring your diet, sleep patterns, and exercise levels, are important first steps.
This is the time of year that we will tend to notice the subtle changes in our mood and energy levels. Be aware of these changes. If you use light therapy, this is the time of year to begin using it again.