Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD) is a mood disorder that many struggle with throughout the fall and winter months. It is characterized by such symptoms as depression, anxiety, mood changes, problems sleeping, lethargy, overeating, and even social problems. SAD is directly related to seasonal variations of light, and affects half a million people between the months of September and April every year. If you or a loved one are among the millions struggling with uncontrollable mood changes during the long, inescapable winter months, know that there are effective treatments and solutions to help ease the symptoms of SAD.
SAD is directly related to the limited amount of natural light occurring in the dark winter months. Phototherapy, or light therapy, can help directly counterbalance this factor and help ease SAD symptoms. Specially designed light therapy boxes provide exposure to bright, artificial light, which mimics limited natural sunlight. Improvements in SAD symptoms can usually be seen with phototherapy in just a few days.
Antidepressant medications can help improve SAD symptoms in the most severe cases. Your doctor may suggest starting a seasonal treatment of antidepressants before the start of the winter season. Improvements in SAD symptoms can be realized after a few weeks.
Psychotherapy, or talk therapy, can be a helpful, natural way to ease feelings of depression and anxiety. Psychotherapy sessions focus on identifying and changing negative thoughts and behaviors and learning healthy strategies to cope with feelings of depression and anxiety.
The feeling of sunlight streaming in through the window is a natural indication that it is time to wake-up. Dark winter mornings can trick our bodies into feeling like we want to stay in bed. Dawn simulators are devices that help many to wake up more comfortably during winter months. They function as alarm clocks that wake you up gradually by producing artificial light. Many varieties of dawn simulators are available, but models that offer full-spectrum light are the most effective for treating SAD.
Regular exercise can help boost mood-enhancing hormones, ease stress and tension, and reduce feelings of anxiety during winter months. Outdoor activities are typically the most helpful in combating SAD when sessions are conducted during daylight hours. Exercise can also help offset the weight gain commonly associated with SAD.
Schedule & Routine
Shorter days can cause distorted feelings of time. SAD sufferers often report difficulty sleeping at night and getting up in the morning. Fight the urge to change your sleep schedule during winter months. Maintaining a regular schedule will help expose your body to natural light at consistent, and predictable times, which will minimize a sense of oppressive darkness.
While you can’t stop the seasons from changing, you don’t have to suffer the symptoms of sad for half of the year, every year. Learning more about available SAD treatments and making a plan for improving your mood during winter months will offer a new perspective that is bound to ease feelings of depression and anxiety.
If you think you or someone you know is suffering from SAD please contact our team of healthcare professionals at Horizon Health Services at 716.831.1800.