By Kristin Sidorov
This weekend marks the end of Daylight Saving Time, and although fall isn't officially over until Dec. 22, it signifies the beginning of a blue mood for many. While the winter doldrums aren't uncommon during those long, chilly months filled with too-short days, seasonal affective disorder (SAD) is a serious condition similar to clinical depression.
For the 6 to 10 percent of people affected by SAD, the beginning of winter can mark the start of a grueling battle. Loss of energy, extreme moodiness and anxiety, loss of interest, sadness and hopelessness, and appetite changes are all symptoms that can progressively worsen as the winter months go on. Knowing the risk factors, signs, and treatments can help ease the doldrums of winter-and let you get back to enjoying life.
Although SAD's exact cause is unknown, experts have determined that the changes in serotonin and melatonin levels brought on by the shifting seasons can cause extreme unbalance in some individuals' moods, sleep patterns, and focus. If our natural cycles and rhythms are interrupted, our whole sense of equilibrium is knocked askew. For those with SAD, this shift is simply too much for the body to handle.
Like any disorder, SAD's onset can range from mild to severe, and often presents mid-fall and lasts until spring. There are several risk factors, including a family history of SAD or another form of clinical depression or bipolar disease. Females are more likely to suffer from SAD, as are those who live furthest from the equator. For many, SAD can be debilitating: Social withdrawal, agitation at work or school, substance abuse, and even suicidal thoughts can develop if the symptoms aren't dealt with properly.
As experts continue to discover the mechanisms behind the disorder, more targeted treatments are helping thousands of individuals to cope with and treat SAD:
While it's not clear exactly how it works, researchers have found that exposure to extremely bright lights that mimic the suns beams is a wonderful and effective treatment for SAD. Many find it as soothing as medication, and it's believed that it aids in re-stabilizing the body's interpretation of day-night cycles. Typically, treatment involves several hours a day of exposure, and specialty lamps are fairly easy to find and purchase. Check with your doctor before starting a schedule to discuss the amount and type of exposure you'll be using.
If symptoms are severe, antidepressants are usually the best and most effective treatment for SAD. If your depression disrupts your quality of life and no other treatments seem to work, it's best to talk to your doctor about starting a prescription schedule of early fall to early spring. Remember that many antidepressants can come with negative side effects, and most take several weeks to kick in. Try light therapy first; in some studies, it was shown to be just as effective.
Good old-fashioned therapy may be a great alternative, especially if your SAD gets worse with holiday stress. Talking to someone about your thoughts and feelings as SAD sets in can help give you the tools to change your cognitive behavior and actively change your way of thinking and patterns of behavior. For some, certain depressive triggers tend to pop up more frequently during the holidays and winter months. Therapy can help you learn to replace negative thoughts and their consequences with positive ones.
Change of Environment
Open the blinds, go outside, and get some exercise! It's human nature to hibernate during the winter, but resisting that urge will pay off-trust me. So what if there's snow on the ground and a nip in the air? Get out, get some fresh air and natural sunlight, and get moving. Exercise helps to relieve stress and anxiety. Bodies need to stay in motion, and a happier body helps nurture a happier mind.
- Buy the book "Manufacturing Depression"
- Can a Cup of Coffee a Day Keep the Blues Away?
- Seasonal Affective Disorder
- Seasonal Affective Disorder: Diagnosis, Causes, Treatment, Prevention
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