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Seasonal Affective Disorder: Learn Symptoms and Treatment

Has the red and green on the holiday season left you blue?  Like many people, you may experience cabin fever during the winter months.  Or, you may tend to eat more or sleep more when the temperature drops.  But Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD) goes well beyond those symptoms.  Seasonal Affective Disorder is much more than the winter blahs.  It’s a type of depressive disorder, sometimes called winter depression.

As many as half a million people in the U.S. may have winter depression.  SAD is more common in women than in men.  The main age of onset is between 18 and 30 years old.  It becomes more common the farther north you live – maybe because these areas experience decreased daylight time.

Symptoms of SAD usually appear during the colder months of fall and winter, when there is less exposure to sunlight during the day.  They usually begin in October or November and subside in March or April.  The most difficult months for SAD sufferers seem to be January and February.  The typical symptoms of winter depression are: increased sleep or sleepiness, overeating, weight gain, daytime fatigue, lack of interest in activities you once enjoyed, and social withdrawal.

If your depressive symptoms are severe enough to significantly affect your daily living, you should consult your physician.  If you feel down for days at a time and life seems to be losing its pleasure, see your doctor.  This is particularly important if you notice that your sleep patterns and appetite have changed – and certainly so if you think about suicide.

Researchers have also found that another way to help treat SAD is light therapy.  Light therapy has proved to be an effective treatment option.  They have proven that bright light makes a difference to the brain chemistry.  This form of therapy involves exposure to very bright light (usually from a special fluorescent lamp) between 30 and 90 minutes a day during the winter months.  This form of therapy is easy to administer and has relatively few side effects.  Nearly 70% of people experience a reduction of their symptoms from daily light therapy, and about 50% experience remission while undergoing light therapy.

Your doctor may prescribe an anti-depressant medication in combination with light therapy or as an alternative, if light therapy is not working.  About 70% of people taking anti-depressants have decreased symptoms, and about half experience remission while taking medication.  With the right course of treatment, SAD can be a very manageable condition.

 WAYS TO COPE WITH SAD

  • Increase the amount of light in your home.  Open blinds, add skylights, and trim tree branches that block sunlight.
  • Get outside and walk on sunny days, even during the winter.
  • Exercise regularly.  Physical exercise helps relieve stress and anxiety, which can accentuate SAD.
  • Find ways to relax.  Learn how to better manage stress.
  • If possible, take winter vacations in sunny locations.
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