Seasonal Affect Disorder (SAD) is a form of depression triggered by the change in seasons, primarily occurring in the late fall/early winter. For the approximately 10 million Americans with SAD, feeling sad, hopeless or lethargic for days or weeks at a time are common symptoms and a constant struggle. SAD, like any form of depression, if untreated can limit your ability to function on daily basis and enjoy your life to the fullest.
Symptoms may start out mild and become more severe as the season progresses. If you are experiences severe mood changes due to seasonal changes, it’s important to visit your health care provider to get an evaluation and choose the best treatment path for your specific needs.
There are several treatments available for SAD, depending on the nature and severity of your symptoms.
• Light Therapy/Phototherapy mimics natural outdoor light and appears to cause a change in the brain chemicals that control our moods. Patients simply sit in front of a special light therapy box so they are exposed to the direct light. Light therapy starts working within a few days to a week for most patients and causes few side effects. This is also a convenient solution because light boxes can be purchased (with the guidance of your physician) and used in your home.
• Psychotherapy/Talk Therapy/Counseling can be used to treat symptoms of SAD by helping you to identify and change any negative thoughts and behaviors that might be making you feel worse. It also provides emotional support and problem solving solutions that are critical to feeling better and being more confident long term.
• Antidepressant Medications can be effective for some people in treating SAD, especially if symptoms are severe. Medications take several weeks before you will notice a benefit, and you may have to try a few until you find the medication that works best for you. Also, most antidepressants have side effects such as headaches, nausea, restlessness, and weight gain. Be sure to take any medication exactly as prescribed for it to be effective.
• Transcranial Magnetic Stimulation (TMS) therapy is a revolutionary new treatment for people who suffer from long-term depression or SAD. Of the patients that have undergone the therapy, 1 in 2 patients improve significantly, and 1 in 3 patients become completely free of depression symptoms. The FDA-approved TMS therapy is a drug-free, non-invasive treatment done in a physician’s office. By using a MRI-strength magnetic field to stimulate the front part of the brain, the core symptoms of major depression can be painlessly alleviated with no side effects.
In addition to treatments given by a doctor, there are things that you can do to make you environment more positive and help decrease your SAD symptoms:
• Increase the natural light in your home. Trim bushes and open curtains that may be blocking the light in the warmer months. Paint the walls of your home with lighter, brighter color.
• Take a walk mid-day when the sun is the highest and brightest. Be outside as often as possible.
• Sit near a window at work if possible.
• Exercise daily, get enough sleep and eat a well-balanced diet. Healthy foods will give you more energy.
• Taking a winter vacation to warmer climates can lift your spirit. Even planning a vacation can be fun and exhilarating.
Seasonal Affect Disorder is a treatable illness that can affect anyone. It’s important to be proactive about seeking the correct professional help and treatment. With the right treatments and lifestyle changes in place, most people can overcome SAD and live life to its fullest.