We have reached the time of year when the days get shorter and the nights get longer. For many people this can bring about a change in mood that is called Seasonal Affective Disorder. What this means is that your mood can be influenced by the season. In particular the decrease in daylight hours can lead to feelings of depression, sadness, melancholy and fatigue. Typically symptoms begin to show in October and November, though some people might begin to feel a change in their mood as early as August or as late as January. Often people who suffer from SAD start to feel better when spring and summer come around, which can be as early as March or April. However, full symptom relief is usually reported to have occurred by May.
There are a number of different treatments for SAD, the most popular being light therapy, which entails sitting in front of a special light for a certain number of minutes a day. This can simulate daylight and help prevent the onset of SAD or help lift a depressed mood caused by the low amount of daylight. How this works is still somewhat unclear. One thought is that by illuminating the lower half of the retina, a part of the eye rich in photoreceptors, an antidepressant response is activated. Another hypothesis is that the light helps to reset our internal clock – which in turn impacts our hormone secretions, circadian rhythm (sleep cycle) and body temperature – and this creates the therapeutic effect. While generally regarded as a safe treatment, potential side effects can include eye strain, headaches, nausea and occasionally mania. Other treatments for more severe SAD include talk therapy and medication.
As SAD is cyclical, that is it occurs each year with the changing of the seasons, you can begin to predict a mood change as winter approaches. This gives you the advantage of being able to be more proactive in preventing or decreasing symptoms each year.
SAD Symptom Check List
There are a number of symptoms associated with SAD and not everyone presents with the same symptoms. This is a list of some of the symptoms you might experience with SAD – but remember SAD occurs primarily during the fall and winter months, (though some people do experience reverse SAD over the summer months) and begins to lift in spring and summer. This is what differentiates SAD from an ongoing depression. If you would like to do an online questionnaire for SAD you can go to the Center for Environmental Therapeutics website at www.cet.org.
- Feeling sad or anxious
- Feelings of worthlessness
- Feelings of pessimism, hopelessness or helplessness
- Difficulties sleeping or sleeping too much
- Loss of interest or pleasure in activities
- Social withdrawal
- Loss or increase in appetite
- Decrease in sexual interest
- Thoughts of death or suicide
If you think you might be struggling with SAD contact a psychologist or other mental healthcare professional who will be able to recommend the best treatment for you.