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Understanding Seasonal Affective Disorder

Understanding Seasonal Affective Disorder

During the winter months many of us have a hard time feeling as motivated as we usually do. Cold weather means shorter days, less light and taking extra time to get bundled up before leaving. While feeling a little down in the winter is not unusual, it’s important to know if your mood is a sign of something more.

Seasonal Affective Disorder or SAD is a type of depression that occurs seasonally, primarily during the winter. Most people who experience SAD will notice that symptoms begin in the late fall or early winter and begin to subside with the arrival of spring. It is possible to experience seasonal affective disorder in the spring and summer, but it’s much less common. Women and those with relatives who have experienced seasonal mood disorders are more likely to experience SAD, however, as you age the chances of experiencing SAD greatly decreases.

What exactly are the symptoms and how does this differ from the depression we are more familiar with?

In order to determine an accurate diagnosis your doctor may ask:

  • If you’ve been depressed during the same season for 2 years in a row or more
  • If you’ve been unusually hungry (especially craving carbohydrates), gained weight or have found yourself sleeping more than usual.
  • If you have a close relative-a parent, brother, or sister that has experienced SAD.

In addition, your doctor may need to do a mental health assessment and blood test to rule out other conditions that cause similar symptoms, like hypothyroidism.

What causes SAD and what can you do to treat it?

Although no specific cause for SAD has been identified, many physicians and researchers believe that the lack of sunlight can disrupt our biological clock and reduce natural levels of serotonin, a chemical produced by the brain that controls mood and melatonin. After speaking with your doctor, medication or counseling might be recommended. Simply getting more light can also help you manage symptoms.

If you are experiencing changes in your mood, it’s always a good idea to speak to someone. Our behavioral health team is here to help. We will work with you on how to overcome obstacles and gain balance in your life, no matter the season.

Make an appointment online or call at 816-889-4920.