Seasonal affective disorder (SAD) is a type of depression that usually occurs in the fall and sometimes lasts all winter.
As the days get short, the symptoms increase.
One starts to get moody, irritable and anxious. For some reason you start to crave carbohydrates and, of course, start to gain weight. Depression sets in and with it a decrease in energy. Sleep patterns change and you find yourself sleeping during the daytime and at night.
Many years ago I was at my doctors for a routine checkup during which I was asked a simple question and I started to cry. After he threatened me recommending to my employee that I should not be working, I was motivated to change my lifestyle. I moved my office desk next to the window, I started an exercise program that included going for walks in the morning in the sunlight.
Most importantly, I purchased a “light therapy box”.
I sat it on my desk at work and used it off and on during the daytime. This ended up being the treatment that I needed. I still use it when the days are dark in the winter.
Incidentally I had a midnight to 8AM shift/night shift staff member who also had SAD and never saw daylight. I encouraged her to use the light while she was doing her chart documentations and it worked for her too.
What causes SAD?
Medicine is not too sure but the reduced level of sunlight may disrupt your body’s internal sleep. The reduced sunlight can cause a drop in serotonin that may trigger depression. In addition the change in season could affect the body’s melatonin levels.
SAD can be serious so if you have symptoms schedule an appointment with your health care provider.
Prepare for your appointment by creating a list of your symptoms, and questions to ask. You may need a antidepressant before your symptoms become too severe. Psychotherapy can help you learn ways to cope with SAD. In addition, learn a stress management technique, make an effort to socialize, eat healthy meals, get enough rest and exercise in the sun.
You may even want to plan a trip to Florida. A three-month trip would be great, and I will be happy to accompany you.
Addendum by Mary Ann Starkes APRN
So here is the skinny on the research related to SAD.
Research on SAD started in the 70’s by Dr. Alfred Levy and others at the National Institutes of Health. There have been numerous studies that have examined the effects of types, strength and timing of “light therapy”.
One thing to note is that SAD is not just sadness in the Fall/Winter, though rare it can occur at other times.
If you suspect you or a loved ones has SAD, make sure a professional mental health person such as a Psychiatrist or APRN is consulted for proper diagnosis and treatment.
The basic treatment for SAD requires a consistent timing and intensity of light that mimics sunlight, (not just a bright indoor bulb). Obviously getting outside is best, but it needs to be before 10:00 am for about a half hour to get the most intense light from the winter sun. The high levels of light early in the morning regulate the body’s level of melatonin production, which affects sleep.
Sleep is the foundation issue in regards to health and, in particular, depression. You can look up the multiple research studies on SAD and the treatments of this on the Internet.
Ruth Carr RN, CH can be reached at Behavior Options Hypnosis 203.915.0480 and Mary Ann Starkes APRN at Whitney Ave Clinicians 203.248.9110.