If you feel an unexplained loss of interest in everything around you as late fall turns into winter each year, you might have more than just a case of the holiday blues — you may be suffering from a form of depression called Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD).
Don’t worry, though, you’re not alone. At least 10 million Americans are affected by SAD, and it’s a condition we see often at Arlington Family Practice in Arlington, Massachusetts. If you suffer from SAD, we want to do everything we can to help you manage your condition so you can thrive even during the winter months.
Here’s what you need to know about Seasonal Affective Disorder:
What causes SAD?
Once the late fall and early winter months hit, you notice one major change: Darkness begins to fall earlier and earlier, meaning less and less daylight each day. It also means you experience more darkness, which stimulates the production of melatonin in your body. As your melatonin levels increase, you may feel sleepier and more lethargic.
People with SAD can also sometimes have lower levels of serotonin, a neurotransmitter that affects your mood. They may produce less vitamin D than others when they’re exposed to sunlight (insufficient vitamin D is linked to symptoms of depression).
SAD usually affects men and women equally. If you have a family history of depression, you may be more likely to develop SAD, and it also occurs more frequently the farther away from the equator you go.
What are the symptoms of SAD?
Symptoms of SAD are similar to depression, but if your symptoms disappear when spring comes, that’s a good indication you have SAD rather than continuing depression. Normal symptoms of SAD include:
- Feelings of hopelessness and sadness
- Increase in the amount of time you sleep
- Change in appetite
- Heavy feeling in your arms and/or legs
- Weight gain
- Low energy
- Suicidal thoughts
- Loss of interest in activities you enjoy
- Reduced physical activity
SAD may also manifest itself socially, with an avoidance of social activities and a desire to be alone.
How can you treat SAD?
One of the most effective treatments for SAD is light therapy. This treatment (also called phototherapy) involves sitting in front of a light box for 30-60 minutes a day. The box mimics natural light and appears to cause enough of a change in your brain chemicals to improve your mood. There are many varieties of light boxes with many features, so talk with your doctor before you buy one to make sure you’re getting just what you need.
While light therapy is usually the best course of action, other treatment options include:
- Vitamin D supplements
Helpful too are activities that explore the connection between your mind and body, such as yoga, meditation, and music or art therapy.
If you dread the onset of winter every year because of Seasonal Affective Disorder, contact Dr. Ann Morvai and her team at Arlington Family Practice for help. Just call the office or book an appointment online to get started. There’s no sense in facing your condition alone when help is readily available. We’re here for you — call today.