Seasonal Affective Disorder: What you should know

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Do you feel gloomy when the days get colder and darker? Does your mood start to improve when the days get warmer and sunnier? If you answer yes to these questions, you may have Seasonal Affective Disorder or SAD.

SAD is a type of depression that comes and goes with the seasons. More commonly, it starts in the late fall and early winter months and goes away during the spring and summer.

Symptoms include feelings of worthlessness, decreased energy or tiredness, difficulty sleeping, difficulty concentrating, appetite or weight changes, and feeling slowed down. If you are experiencing at least five of these symptoms for two or more weeks, contact a mental health professional. If left untreated, depression symptoms can affect all areas of your life, making life less enjoyable and productive.

Who is at risk?

Women are four times more likely to be diagnosed with SAD than men. And younger adults are more likely to have it than older adults.

What are the risk factors?

Although the exact reasons for SAD are not known, people with a family history of SAD or other forms of depression are at higher risk. If you have clinical depression or bipolar disorder, your symptoms may worsen with seasonal changes.

What are treatment options?

Treatment of SAD can involve light therapy, medications and psychotherapy. In addition to medical treatment, here are a few simple recommendations that can help manage SAD symptoms:

  • Exercise daily in sunlight. This can help you sleep better at night and give you more energy. Increase your motivation to exercise by teaming up with a friend or family member.
  • Engage in daily activities you find pleasant to uplift your mood, like listening to music, reading, or visiting a park.
  • Be around others, even if you don’t feel like doing so. Social interaction can help you be less focused on your negative thoughts.
  • Practice good sleep hygiene. Go to bed and wake up at the same time daily. Establish a bedtime ritual that involves turning of all electronics and doing deep breathing/relaxation exercises.
  • Practice daily gratitude. Find one thing to be grateful for each day and reflect on the meaning.
  • Practice self-compassion. It is easy to be self-critical, but remember to be kind to yourself. Talk to yourself as you would a friend.
  • Practice mindfulness. Be fully present in the moment, with full awareness of your thoughts, feelings, sensations and surroundings. Being a witness to your thoughts without judging them may help you feel less depressed.

Don’t struggle with SAD in silence. Reaching out to a mental health professional for help is a sign of strength rather than weakness. If you are having suicidal thoughts, seek immediate help. The Anne Arundel Crisis Response System is a 24-hour hotline you can call at 410-768-5522.

Author

A.GogineniAruna Gogineni, Ph.D., LCSW-C, is a mental health professional at Anne Arundel Medical Group (AAMG) Mental Health Specialists, located in Annapolis. To reach her, call 410-573-9000.

 

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