Seasonal Affective Disorder

Seasonal Affective DisorderSeasonal Affective Disorder (SAD) is a form of depression that usually occurs around this time of the year and continues through the winter, especially for those of us who live in Northeast Ohio. In a recent article in The Wall St. Journal, it was reported that it may start as early as Labor Day for some people. It is thought that SAD is caused by a lack of sunlight which disturbs our sleep-wake cycles which then has an effect on serotonin, a brain chemical that affects our mood.

Symptoms usually come and go at the same time every year, starting in September or October and ending in April or May. Because the symptoms of SAD are very similar to the symptoms of depression, your physician can make a diagnosis if you have had the same experience for two consecutive years – especially when the symptoms disappear in the spring and summer. It is most common in people between the ages of 15 and 55 and occurs mostly in women.

The symptoms of SAD may include:

  • Feeling sad, unhappy, anxious, moody or irritable
  • Weight gain due to craving carbohydrates and having an increased appetite
  • Sleeping more but feeling tired during the day
  • Less energy and difficulty functioning especially in the afternoon
  • Lose of interest in socializing or participating in your usual activities

The good news is that SAD is treatable. Daily light therapy by way of a “light box”, a bright fluorescent lamp (10,000 lux), has been found to be very beneficial. Spending 15-30 minutes outdoors even on a cloudy day, as well as, regular exercise such as walking, swimming or riding a stationary bike is recommended. Finally, it is important to discuss your symptoms with your physician because an antidepressant may be beneficial in reducing or eliminating the symptoms of SAD.