Seasonal Affective Disorder: Symptoms and Treatment Options

Keeping Your Holiday Season Merry and Bright

Seasonal Affective Disorder: Symptoms and Treatment Options

Holidays should be merry and bright, but for some, the yuletide season can have a negative effect. Unfortunately, what is already a stressful time of year also coincides with seasonal affective disorder (SAD), a condition that affects 10 million Americans.

SAD, also known as seasonal blues, is a type of depression related to a change in the seasons. It begins when daylight saving time ends and the transition from fall into winter begins. Though the specific cause of SAD remains unknown, there are a few factors that come into play:

  • Your biological clock, or circadian rhythm. The decrease in sunlight can disrupt your body’s internal clock, leading to feelings of depression.
    • Serotonin levels. Serotonin is a brain chemical that affects mood, and a drop in this neurotransmitter might play a role in developing SAD, because reduced sunlight can cause a drop in serotonin that might trigger depression.
    • Melatonin levels. When seasons change, the balance of the body’s melatonin level is disrupted, affecting sleep patterns and mood.

Common symptoms of SAD include:seasonal affective disorder
• A change in appetite, especially a craving for sweet or starchy foods
• Weight gain
• A heavy feeling in the arms or legs
• A drop in energy level
• Fatigue
• A tendency to oversleep
• Difficulty concentrating
• Irritability
• Increased sensitivity to social rejection
• Avoidance of social situations

These symptoms recur annually, and tend to come and go around the same time every year. Though anyone can be affected, women are four times more likely than males to be diagnosed with SAD, and night owls are more than three times as likely to report the disorder than normal sleepers.

Seasonal blues symptoms vary, and its causes are not clear, but fortunately there are a variety of treatment options:

  • Light therapy, which involves sitting in front of a light-therapy box that emits a very bright light. This treatment typically requires 20 minutes or more per day, usually first thing in the morning during winter months. People tend to see improvements from light therapy within two weeks of beginning treatment. To maintain the benefits and prevent relapse, treatment should be continued through the end of winter. Because symptoms can return in late fall, light therapy can begin in early fall as a preventative measure.
    • Talk therapy, particularly cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT), can also effectively treat SAD. CBT can help a person with depression recognize and change negative thought patterns or behaviors that are contributing to the depression.
    • Selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors are the antidepressants most commonly used to treat SAD. They can ease symptoms of moderate to severe depression, are relatively safe, and typically cause fewer side effects than other types of antidepressants.
    • Extended-release bupropion, also known as Wellbutrin XL, can also help treat symptoms of SAD. A norepinephrine and dopamine reuptake inhibitor, Wellbutrin XL balances chemicals in the brain to help improve symptoms of depression.

If you are experiencing symptoms of seasonal blues, seek the help of a trained medical professional. It’s important to rule out any other medical conditions, as SAD can be misdiagnosed in the presence of hypothyroidism, hypoglycemia, infectious mononucleosis, and other viral infections.

The team at Heartfelt Solutions can help you and your loved ones diagnose and manage the condition. Call 502-915-8343, ext. 104 for more information or to discuss therapy options.

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