Winter Weather: Know the Signs: Seasonal Affective Disorder

Winter Resource Guide
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Seasonal affective disorder (also called SAD) is a type of depression that occurs at the same time every year. If you’re like most people with seasonal affective disorder, your symptoms start in the fall and may continue into the winter months, sapping your energy and making you feel moody. Here are details from experts at the Mayo Clinic about SAD and what you can do about it,

The Symptoms

  • Depression
  • Hopelessness
  • Anxiety
  • Loss of energy
  • Heavy, “leaden” feeling in arms or legs
  • Social withdrawal

Other Symptoms

  • Oversleeping
  • Loss of interest in activities you once enjoyed
  • Appetite changes, especially a craving for foods high in carbohydrates
  • Weight gain
  • Difficulty concentrating

The Causes

  • Your Biological Clock: Reduced sunlight can affect circadian rhythm, which lets your body know when you should be asleep or awake
  • Serotonin Levels: Reduced sunlight can cause a drop in serotonin, a brain chemical that affects mood.
  • Melatonin Levels: Change in season can disrupt the balance of melatonin, the hormone that plays a role in sleep patterns & mood

Who’s Affected Most

  • Women
  • Those living far from the equator
  • Those with a family history of depression
  • People with clinical depression or bipolar disorder

Treatments

  • Light Therapy
    • In light therapy, also called phototherapy, you sit a few feet from a specialized light therapy box so that you’re exposed to bright light.
    • Light therapy mimics outdoor light and appears to cause a change in brain chemicals linked to mood.
  • Medication
    • Some people with seasonal affective disorder benefit from antidepressant treatment, especially if symptoms are severe.
    • According to the Mayo Clinic, Antidepressants commonly used to treat seasonal affective disorder include paroxetine (Paxil), sertraline (Zoloft), fluoxetine (Prozac, Sarafem) and venlafaxine (Effexor).
  • Psychotherapy
    • Although seasonal affective disorder is thought to be related to brain chemistry, your mood and behavior also can add to symptoms.
    • Psychotherapy can help you identify and change negative thoughts and behaviors that may be making you feel worse.
  • Alternative Therapies
    • Acupuncture
    • Yoga
    • Meditation
    • Guided Imagery
    • Massage Therapy

Alternative Medicine

Herbal remedies or supplements are sometimes used to relieve depression symptoms. However, Mayo Clinic said some alternative treatments alone may not be enough and some may not be safe if you have other medical issues or take certain medications. Best bet – always check with your doctor first.

  • St. John’s Wort
    • This herb is not approved by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) to treat depression in the United States, but it’s a popular depression treatment in Europe.
  • SAMe
    • Like St. John’s wort, SAMe isn’t approved by the FDA to treat depression in the United States, but it’s used in Europe as a prescription drug to treat depression.
    • Could cause mania in people with bipolar disorder
  • Melatonin
    • This dietary supplement is a synthetic form of a hormone occurring naturally in the body that helps regulate mood. A change in the season to less light may change the level of melatonin in your body.
  • Omega-3 Fatty Acids
    • These healthy fats are found in cold-water fish, flaxseed, flax oil, walnuts and some other foods.
    • While considered generally safe, in high doses, omega-3 supplements may interact with other medications.

Lifestyle Changes

  • Make your environment brighter Open blinds, trim tree branches that block sunlight, or add skylights to your home.
    • Sit closer to bright windows while at home or in the office.
  • Get Outside
    • Take a long walk, eat lunch at a nearby park, or simply sit on a bench and soak up the sun.
    • Even on cold or cloudy days, outdoor light can help — especially if you spend some time outside within two hours of getting up in the morning
  • Exercise Regularly
    • Physical exercise helps relieve stress and anxiety, both of which can increase seasonal affective disorder symptoms.
    • Being more fit can make you feel better about yourself, too, which can lift your mood

Get Help

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If you feel down for days at a time, see your doctor. SAD can get worse and lead to further problems if it’s not treated, including:

  • Suicidal thoughts or behavior
  • Social withdrawal
  • School or work problems
  • Substance abuse

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