As the winter season starts, lots of people find themselves feeling a little bit down. This is common as we trade sun for snow and days get shorter. In some cases, it can be more than a simple winter slump. Many people find themselves suffering from Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD) this time of year.

What is Seasonal Affective Disorder?

Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD) is a kind of depression that is caused by changes in the seasons. For most people, symptoms of SAD set in at the end of the fall and continue through winter. SAD can make you feel tired, unmotivated, and moody.

SAD is a treatable condition. There are easy steps you can take to help treat your Seasonal Affective Disorder that will help you feel happier through the winter months.

Symptoms of SAD

Symptoms of SAD usually start to show up in late fall and can get worse as we move into the winter season. In some cases, SAD can occur in the spring and summer, but the symptoms are similar.

Common Symptoms

  • Feeling sad most of the day for multiple days
  • Losing interest in things you used to enjoy
  • Feeling tired
  • Sleeping more than usual or too much
  • Trouble concentrating
  • Feeling hopeless

The cause of Seasonal Affective Disorder is unknown, but a few things may contribute to it. Your internal ‘clock’ can be thrown off in winter because it gets dark out earlier than usual. That can lead to depression.

There is also a chemical in your body that impacts your mood called serotonin. The changes in daylight during winter might cause your body to produce less of this chemical.

Another important chemical in your body is melatonin. This is the chemical that makes you feel sleepy at night and helps you sleep. The change from fall to winter can affect how much melatonin your body makes.

How Do I Know if I Have SAD?

Feeling tired or depressed, trouble with sleep, and losing interest in things are the main warning signs for SAD. You know your body best, so even if you don’t have the usual symptoms, you should talk to your healthcare provider if you think something is wrong.

The first step to diagnosing SAD is talking to your provider. They can help figure out your symptoms, decide if you need any testing, and help find a treatment that works for you.

Treating SAD

SAD is a condition that can be treated, and there are several ways to treat it. Your provider can work with you to find what works best for you.

Light Therapy

One of the triggers of SAD is thought to be a lack of natural light. In winter the sun sets earlier which means less sunlight. To combat this, you may do light therapy.

Light therapy simply means sitting in front of a special light, usually when you first wake up. This mimics natural light and helps cause your brain to create more serotonin.

This is often the first treatment for SAD. There are different kinds of lights, so its important to talk to your provider about the specific one that is right for you.

Talk Therapy

SAD is a form of depression, and many people benefit from talking to a therapist. Therapy helps you learn how to cope with SAD and how to deal with the symptoms.

Your therapist can also work with you to manage stress and build good habits that will help you feel better and improve your mood and reduce feelings of sadness.

Medication

Many people benefit from light and talk therapy. In some cases, medication is also used to help balance the chemicals in your body. Some people only need medication during part of the year, to combat SAD specifically.

Lifestyle Changes

There are also steps you can take at home to help deal with the symptoms of SAD. Simple things like exercising and having a sleep routine can have a positive impact on your overall mental health. They also help to reduce the symptoms of SAD and make you feel better.

Spending time outside can also help SAD. While the winter months can be colder, taking walks or being outside on milder days let you absorb natural light. If the weather doesn’t make it easy to be outside, you can also make your home and workspace brighter with more light, or even open your blinds to let natural light in.

Dealing with SAD

Lots of people feel less motivated in the winter months, but for some of us, it could be more than that. When you struggle to get out of bed or enjoy your favorite activities, it’s time to reach out to your provider.

There are multiple ways to treat Seasonal Affective Disorder, and many of them are easy to do. They may also help you feel healthier overall. More sunshine and help dealing with your symptoms can brighten your winter.

If you find yourself struggling as winter settles in, or you just don’t feel like yourself, reach out to your provider. The first step to feeling better is one visit.

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