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Winter makes me SAD! – Seasonal Affective Disorder and Treatment Options

persoma counseling associates winter makes-me SAD seasonal affective disorder and treatment options - persoma-counseling

By: Emma Segnere, MSW Intern

When the days get shorter and the weather gets colder, many people may experience some symptoms of depression that is related to the lack of exposure to the sun. While the exact causes of seasonal affective disorder are unknown, it is hypothesized that the drop in exposure to sunlight and vitamin D may cause your body’s internal clock (circadian rhythm) to be disrupted, leading to feelings of depression.

Some symptoms associated with Seasonal Affective Disorder include:

  • Feeling depressed most of the day, nearly every day
  • Having low energy, feeling sluggish
  • Losing interest in activities you once enjoyed
  • Problems sleeping too much.
  • Changes in your appetite or weight
  • Feeling sluggish or agitated
  • Having difficulty concentrating
  • Having suicidal thoughts

These symptoms usually begin and end at about the same time every year, which helps to differentiate between symptoms of Major Depressive Disorder and SAD. Some factors that may put people at a higher risk of experiencing SAD are: a family history of SAD, diagnosis of Major Depressive Disorder or Bipolar Disorder, living far from the equator, and low levels of Vitamin D. The good news is that there are many treatment options for Seasonal Affective Disorder.

While affected persons may benefit from psychotherapy and anti-depressant medication, studies have shown that light therapy can be effective in reducing depressive symptoms. Light therapy is done by having the patient sit a few feet from a special light box within the first hour of waking up each day. These light boxes are meant to mimic exposure to natural, outdoor sunlight and appears to cause a change in brain chemicals that are linked to mood. Studies have shown that in people who report that they respond well to light therapy, depressive symptoms usually start to decrease within a week and there are few reported side effects. There are a range of different light boxes available online such as Happy Light.

If you think you might be experiencing symptoms of SAD, talk to your therapist about adding light therapy to your self-care routine!

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