November to April – Months of Seasonal Affective Disorder

Do you feel sad, fatigued, and less motivated during the months of November to April? You may have noticed that during this time you have an unusual craving for sweets, too. This condition is known as Seasonal Affective Disorder or SAD for short. In the United States between 10 to 20 percent of the adult population are affected by SAD in the mild form, according to a recent report by the American Psychiatric Association. Dr. Angelos Halaris, Professor of Psychiatry at Loyola University Chicago Stritch School of Medicine in Illinois, reports, “This condition, characterized by depression, exhaustion and lack of interest in people and regular activities, interferes with a person’s outlook on life and ability to function properly. The most common type of this mood disorder occurs during the winter months.”

What is Seasonal Affective Disorder?

We possess in our brain light sensitive cells that are associated with mood, behavior, and general well-being. These cells require exposure to light in order to function properly. With SAD, there is a chemical imbalance in the brain due to the lack of light exposure on the cells. Lack of light is common during the winter months due to shorter days and overcast skies. This is the reason that lack of exposure to light makes people depressed during the winter season. SAD has also been genetically linked, as some people inherit the disorder and tend to suffer from it more than others. It has also been found that women complain of this condition more than men. There is good news, however. SAD can be treated with antidepressants and light therapy, according to current research.

What Causes SAD?

Scientists are not exactly sure what causes SAD but they believe that it is caused by lack of sunlight. This lack of proper light upsets the sleep-wake cycle and other circadian rhythms of the body and causes problems with the brain chemical known as serotonin, which affects mood.

What are the Symptoms of SAD?

There are many symptoms of SAD. You may have some or all of these. The symptoms include feeling sad, grumpy, moody, or anxious, loss of interest in your usual activities, eating and craving foods high in carbohydrates, gaining weight, and feeling sleepy or drowsy during the daytime hours. These symptoms can come and go during the winter months. Most people who are affected by SAD seem to start having symptoms around September or October. Most of these symptoms go away in April or May of the year.

How is SAD Treated?

Experts have discovered many treatment modalities for SAD. Doctors often prescribe light therapy which comes in two forms. The first is bright light treatment, where you sit in front of a “light box” for around 30 minutes each morning. Some people are encouraged to use the light box for up to an hour, however. The other form of light therapy is dawn stimulation. This is a dim light that comes on in the morning while you are asleep and gets brighter overtime, much like the sunrise. Most people who utilize light therapy report feeling better after just a week’s time.

Another popular treatment for SAD is the use of antidepressants, particularly the Selective Serotonin Reuptake Inhibitors (SSRIs). These medications can improve the balance of brain chemicals therefore relieving the symptoms of SAD. Other treatments include counseling, cognitive behavioral therapy, and exercise.

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