We’re in full Fall swing, which means baseball playoffs, pumpkin spice everything, cool, crisp weather, and shorter days. If you’re like most people, even if you love Autumn, you secretly crave more hours of sunlight every day. Why? Our bodies naturally crave the energy and mood-boosting power of the sun. When we start to experience fewer regular hours of daylight, especially as Fall turns to Winter, it can begin to impact your mood, especially if you are sensitive to a condition called Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD). What is this moody condition, and how might it be affecting your internal happiness-o-meter? Read on to find out.
What is SAD?
SAD, often referred to as major depressive disorder with seasonal pattern, is a type of depression that’s associated with the changing of the seasons. Those who experience SAD most often feel a decline in their mood in the Fall and Winter months. While experts still need to conduct more research on the causes of SAD, the American Psychiatric Association (APA) believes the condition may be triggered by reduced exposure to sunlight, causing a chemical imbalance in the brain and a disruption of the circadian rhythm (our internal clock).
While the APA reports that only about five percent of Americans experience SAD annually, it can plague their mood for up to 40 percent of the year.
Symptoms of Fall and Winter SAD may include:
- Regular feelings of depression or hopelessness
- Difficulty sleeping
- Changes in appetite or weight
- Being easily agitated
- Reduced interest in hobbies and activities
- Feelings of low energy
- Difficulty concentrating
In the most severe cases, SAD can result in thoughts of death or suicidal ideation.
What to Do if You Believe You are Experiencing SAD
If you notice a recurring, negative impact on your mood and emotional wellbeing during times of the year that experience less consistent daylight, talk to your doctor. He or she will be able to diagnose whether or not you are experiencing a seasonal, or more persistent form of major depressive disorder, and can prescribe a treatment plan. Common treatments for SAD include:
- Psychotherapy – Treatments such as cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) can help patients understand and manage their reactions to certain situations and environments.
- Prescription Medication – For some, antidepressant medications help to increase serotonin levels, improving mood, and lessening feelings of depression.
- Bright Light Therapy (Phototherapy) – During this treatment approach, a patient sits in front of a lightbox for twenty minutes to an hour daily, ideally in the morning hours, during the times of the year when they typically experience SAD. The light exposure may help to restore the patient’s normal circadian rhythm.
- Lifestyle Changes – Changing one’s routine to maximize exposure to sunlight may also help improve mood. Committing to an afternoon walk, changing window dressings to allow more natural sunlight into rooms, and sitting near a window during work hours are all helpful tactics. Obtaining regular exercise and eating healthy also help to stabilize and improve mental health.
The days are only going to keep getting shorter until we reach the Winter solstice. If you believe you may be feeling the effects of shorter, darker days, make an appointment now to talk to your Nova Health provider. Together we will build a plan so that you can maximize your enjoyment of every day, regardless of the season.