Those of us who are lucky enough to call the San Francisco Bay Area home usually have nothing to complain about. This summer however, many of us have been caught grumbling about our colder, foggier, cloudier than usual summer. How has this winter-like weather been affecting your mood? Some people experience a serious mood change when the weather takes a downward turn. They may sleep too much, have little energy, and crave sweets and starchy foods. They may also feel more sad than usual. These symptoms typically begin when the weather turns colder in autumn, peak in the winter and usually resolve in the spring. Some people have an increase in energy and creativity in the spring or early summer when the weather becomes sunnier. This condition is Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD). Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD) a form of depression. Individuals who work in buildings without windows are at risk for SAD-like symptoms at any time of the year. A less common type of SAD happens in the summer.
Symptoms. SAD is recognized in the DSM-IV (The American Psychiatric Association’s diagnostic manual) as a subtype of Major Depressive Disorder. About 70-80% of those with SAD are women. The most common age of onset is in one’s thirties, but cases of childhood SAD have been reported and successfully treated.
* Afternoon slumps with decreased energy and concentration
* Carbohydrate cravings
* Decreased interest in work or other activities
* Depression that starts in fall or winter
* Increased appetite with weight gain
* Increased sleep and excessive daytime sleepiness
* Lack of energy
* Slow, sluggish, lethargic movement
* Social withdrawal
Treatment. Light therapy (a.k.a. phototherapy), entails people exposing themselves to a special type of light for 30 minutes every day often helps. Traveling to a sunny climate during the cold months can also help alleviate symptoms. Other treatments include:
- Daily exercise has been shown to be helpful, particularly when done outdoors.
- Psychotherapy can help you better manage stress, and explore depressive assumptions and negative expectations. It can also help one identify relationship difficulties so that interpersonal mistakes might not be repeated. Research has shown that Cognitive-Behavioral psychotherapy does help relieve depression faster and more completely than no therapy.
- Changes in diet. For those who tend to crave sweets or carbs during the winter, eating a balanced diet may help one’s mood. Conversely, as the mood improves, craving for sweets may abate.
As with other types of depression, antidepressant medications in addition to psychotherapy can be effective.
Symptoms commonly get better on their own with the change of seasons.
Causes. What causes SAD? Some experts think it’s a lack of sunlight during winter, when the days are shorter. In the United States, it is much more common in northern states. The disorder may begin in adolescence or early adulthood.
While the direct cause of SAD is not known, it is thought to be related to numerous factors, including:
* Ambient light
* Body temperature
* Hormone regulation
Tests & diagnosis
A visit to your doctor/health care provider will help you examine any other causes of the symptoms and confirm a diagnosis of SAD. A psychological evaluation may be needed for more severe depression.
The prognosis is good with consistent treatment, though some people have the disorder throughout their lives.
Individuals who suspect they have SAD should speak with a mental health care professional to explore what treatments are best utilized based upon your individual needs.