As the weather changes and the colder months roll in, you may find your mood shifting. Seasonal affective disorder (SAD) symptoms often begin in the fall and taper off as the winter months come to an end. This differs from depression, which will persist regardless of the weather or season. Symptoms of SAD include low energy, difficulty sleeping or staying awake, depression, thoughts of death or suicide, and having difficulty concentrating. 

Here’s what you should know about SAD and how you can treat or lessen its symptoms. 

How It Works

There are three main reasons why you might be prone to SAD. While we are unsure of the precise reason SAD occurs in individuals, these factors play a significant role in the development of the disorder. 

To start, the colder months are also the darkest, so your hours of daylight are significantly lower. Less light might negatively impact your circadian rhythm and lead to low moods or feelings of depression. 

Your serotonin levels may also drop during the colder months, resulting in feelings of depression. Serotonin is a brain chemical that affects your mood. A lack of sunlight can result in a decrease of serotonin in the brain, which may lead to SAD. 

Finally, changes in the season may impact your melatonin levels. Melatonin regulates sleep patterns and moods, so irregular levels of this hormone may mess up your emotions and sleeping habits. 

How It Can Be Treated 

The last thing you want to do is pass off SAD as a temporary and unimportant issue. Your emotions are always valid and should be addressed appropriately. You should talk to a doctor if you find yourself having a difficult time going about day-to-day tasks, see changes in your eating or sleeping patterns, “turn to alcohol for comfort or relaxation, or… feel hopeless or think about suicide.” 

Light therapy, psychotherapy, and medication can all help lessen the effects of SAD. Phototherapy (or light therapy) is particularly interesting and is used exclusively to treat SAD. Patients use a light therapy box that emits light similar to that of a natural outdoor glow. They keep it by themselves to simulate daylight, which helps relieve SAD symptoms. 

The great thing about light therapy is that it doesn’t carry the same long list of side effects as an antidepressant does. However, it will not entirely replace taking prescribed medicine. In fact, “increase the effectiveness of antidepressant medication or mental health counseling.” 

Talking to a therapist is also extremely beneficial. Just make sure, to be honest about your symptoms and not undermine your own emotions. 

Small Things You Can Do Right Now 

So, what can you do today to start making yourself feel a little better? 

If you can, try to take a walk or spend some time outdoors while the sun is out. The nine-to-five workweek can mean that you get to work in the dark and leave it in the dark, so take advantage of your lunch or break times to enjoy the daylight. 

You can also find someone to talk to about how you are feeling. This could be a friend, family member, or a therapist, depending on what’s available to you. You deserve to feel happy during all four seasons – not just spring and summer. 

Lastly, see about purchasing a light therapy box for your office or home. The benefits of this simple device may surprise you. 

If you need immediate support and are consumed with thoughts of death or suicide, please call the National Suicide Prevention Hotline at 1-800-273-8255.

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