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what-is-SADDepressed? Why Winter Might Be to Blame

This winter, if you find yourself struggling to get out of bed, putting on extra weight, and having trouble focusing in the afternoon, there might be more to blame than the chilly weather. Thousands of people suffer from seasonal affective disorder, or SAD. What is SAD, and what can you do if you have it?  

Winter Time Blues

Seasonal affective disorder is a type of depression related to major depressive disorder, the type of depression most of us are familiar with. What makes SAD unique is that it is isolated to certain times of the year. Most SAD sufferers begin exhibiting symptoms in the fall with increasing severity through the winter.  In rare cases, SAD is triggered in the spring and lasts into the early summer months. Scientists are not certain what causes SAD, but they theorize that it has something to do with light exposure and circadian rhythms (the sleep wake cycle). In winter, people often experience changes to natural levels of serotonin and melatonin, hormones that influence mood and sleep. People with SAD may experience more dramatic changes to these hormones than others.

Symptoms of SAD

Common symptoms of SAD are similar to those for more common depressive disorders, but they are isolated to certain times of year and usually recur annually. They include:
  • Weight Gain
  • Excessive Sleeping
  • Anxiety
  • Moodiness
  • Afternoon Grogginess or Lethargy
  • Social Withdrawal
  • Loss of Interest
  • “Heavy” Feeling in Arms and Legs
  • Food Cravings, Especially Carbs

If you or someone you love seems to be experiencing these symptoms, a medical examination is in order. While some people may want to dismiss SAD symptoms because they are temporary or just “the winter blues,” SAD is a serious condition and a very treatable one.

Treatment for SAD

One of the most unique treatments for SAD is light therapy. Scientists theorize that seasonal changes in light have an increased affect on the brain chemistry of SAD sufferers. One way the disorder is treated in by increasing exposure to light that mimics natural sunlight. Many SAD patients have found that exposing themselves to bright light for an hour (sometimes much less) in the morning dramatically alleviates their symptoms. While there isn’t a lot of research backing up the potential scientific effects of light therapy, many doctors suggest it because it seems to work and there are little to no side effects. Even spending time near a sunny window seems to help mild SAD sufferers.

Other treatments for SAD include medications and professional counseling. Both have been shown to be effective in treating the disorder, and are often used in combination with light therapy. Whatever method your doctor suggests, know that you aren’t alone. SAD affects many people, and there is no reason to feel embarrassed or ashamed if you are one of them.

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