Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD) & its Treatment

Feb 3, 2018 in Ask The Therapist

Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD) is a mood disorder caused by chemical imbalances in the brain due to lowered exposure to sunlight in the winter. It can occur any time between September-April, but is most common in December, January, and February. Changes in the amount of sunlight can cause changes in our internal clock causing some people to feel out of sync.

 

Melatonin, a sleep related hormone, may also be linked to SAD and influence symptoms of depression. It is produced in increased levels in the dark so its production increases as the days are shorter and darker. Additionally, the further you live from the equator the higher incidence of SAD. For some it is a mild case of the winter blues with manageable symptoms and for others it can be serious preventing them from functioning without treatment.

 

The symptoms include irregular sleep patterns with a desire to oversleep or difficulty waking up, lethargy with fatigue, overeating with cravings for sweets, feeling down, apathetic of hopeless, irritability and a desire to avoid social activities, anxiety, loss of libido, and mood changes. These symptoms usually disappear in the spring.

 

For mild cases, daily exposure to as much natural daylight as possible, even when gloomy, especially midday, can be helpful. Most of us spend 90% of our day indoors where artificial light rarely reaches the level of an overcast day.

 

Light therapy has been found to be helpful in moderate cases. It works using a light box that replicates natural daylight without damaging ultraviolet light. It lets light enter through the eyes and helps regulate the chemicals in the brain.

 

Research has shown that antidepressants, light therapy, and counseling can be helpful in more serious cases.

 

 

Written by Noha Everetts MA.Ed, LPCC

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