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Dealing with Seasonal Affective Disorder

Posted by Alison Urey, M.D. on Feb 3, 2018 8:11:00 AM

Some people welcome the winter months with open arms. For others, winter signifies feelings of isolation, sadness, and general malaise. Now that we’re into the thick of the season, people who suffer from these feelings, called seasonal depression or seasonal affective disorder (SAD), are probably itching for the springtime to start. If this sounds like you, here are some things to keep in mind about SAD and some ways to help combat it. 

What Are the Signs?

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As the name suggests, seasonal affective disorder describes feelings of depression that tend to be cyclical in nature, revolving around the change in seasons. While this typically starts in the fall and goes to the end of the winter, in rarer cases, SAD happens in late spring and early summer. Here are some of the most prevalent symptoms to look for: 

  • Feelings of depression that last most of the day for several days
  • Low energy levels
  • Difficulty sleeping
  • Trouble with concentration
  • Feeling a decrease in interest in activities or hobbies you used to enjoy
  • Feeling irritated or sluggish more often than normal
  • Changes in weight or appetite
  • Feelings of hopelessness, guilt, or worthlessness
  • Suicidal thoughts 

People who experience SAD in the winter months typically experience weight gain, oversleeping, cravings for foods high in carbohydrates and sluggishness. Those who experience SAD in the spring or summer tend to exhibit insomnia, poor appetite, weight loss, or anxiety. 

Keep in mind that not everyone experiences SAD the same way. Just because you might not be experiencing every one of these symptoms doesn’t mean you’re not suffering from the condition. Talk to your doctor or mental healthcare professional immediately if you think you might be living with SAD. 

Ways to Combat it

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Your doctor might prescribe medication to help temporarily regulate your serotonin levels. Apart from medication, there are other things you can do to allay the symptoms of the disorder. Because SAD seem sometimes seems to be directly related to the reduction in light levels that occur during the winter, many patients experience relief by bringing as much light as possible indoors. Open the windows, open the curtains, and switch out amber bulbs for daylight bulbs. Light therapy boxes can also be purchased to fight against SAD. There’s a range of these available; therefore, it’s best to talk with your doctor first to determine if one is necessary and what kind might work best for you. 

Other things that may help ease the symptoms of SAD are: 

  • Exercise
  • Talking with a therapist
  • Spending time outside
  • Brightening up dark walls in your home with lighter paint
  • Managing stress
  • Taking time for vacation if you can 

Don’t take SAD lightly – it comes with very real symptoms and risks. Get help and make some routine changes immediately. 

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Dr. Alison Urey is a board-certified Internal Medicine physician at Kelsey-Seybold’s The Woodlands Clinic in Shenandoah. She joined the clinic in 2015 after completing her residency at Baylor College of Medicine and welcomes new patients.

 

Topics: seasonal affective disorder, SAD, seasonal depression

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