Do You Have Seasonal Affective Disorder?

I always thought it was ironic that the acronym for Seasonal Affective Disorder was SAD. SAD is a psychological disorder that strikes during the cooler months of the year, affecting people between ages 15 through 55 the most severely. Statistics show that women and young people tend to more severely affected by SAD, especially women who tend to stay home to take care of their children and find themselves cooped up indoors during the winter months.

Experts are not quite certain what causes SAD, but many believe it may have to do with a lack of exposure to sunlight during the fall and winter months in the northern hemisphere. As we approach Daylight Savings Time, we watch our days grow shorter and shorter, with darkness often setting in as early as 5 o’clock in the afternoon. Some medical scientists think the lack of daylight hours may affect our daily sleep cycles, in turn unbalancing the amount of seratonin produced by the brain.

Symptoms of SAD vary from one patient to the next, but may include sadness, lethargy, difficulty sleeping or sleeping too much, losing interest in the things you enjoy, weight gain, craving for carbohydrates, anxiety and severe depression.

Sometimes it may be difficult for doctors to diagnose SAD, as the symptoms are very similar to non-seasonal depression. In order to determine if you are experiencing SAD, your doctor may ask you to think back on other times during your life you felt depressed. If you’re prone to experiencing depression during the fall and winter months, or someone in your family was diagnosed with SAD, your doctor may prescribe light therapy.

There are two types of light therapy. Bright light therapy and dawn simulation therapy. In bright light therapy you are exposed to a bright light in the morning for 30 minutes or longer, depending on the severity of your symptoms. Dawn simulation therapy simulates sunrise and uses a gradually brightening light that comes on while you’re sleeping and grows brighter as the morning progresses.

Other treatments for SAD may include anti-depressant drugs, counseling, melatonin supplements and physical exercise.

Getting through the winter is hard enough, especially if you live in a region that often traps you indoors because of bad weather. If you are dreading the onset of the winter months, and you remember feeling the same dread in the past, you may want to talk to your doctor about SAD.

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