The closing of the year brings us many things, Thanksgiving, Halloween and Christmas to name a few. Unfortunately for many, the shortening days and cloudy skies bring with them Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD). SAD is a medical condition whose symptoms can include, but are not limited to, depressed mood, low energy, disordered sleep patterns, anxiety, and overeating sometimes combined with carbohydrate cravings. It generally starts in the late fall and continues until the later winter months, coinciding with the reduced daylight hours. Its effect can be more devastating when suffers are surrounded by people who are feeling festive and excited.
There are several theories as to why some people get SAD. It can be that the reduced daylight causes a disruption in our circadian rhythm or internal clock. Another possibility is the shorter darker days lead to reduction in production of the brain chemicals serotonin and or melatonin. Any of these could lead to the symptoms that sufferers experience. Having a family history of SAD or previous depressive episodes also increases your risk for SAD.
If you think you may be experiencing SAD it is important that you seek treatment. There are several options available that can help you feel better and function at a more normal level. Many people find relief with light therapy. This involves sitting close to a specific kind of lighting device, known as a SAD light, within the first hour of waking each day. SAD lights are widely available in pharmacies, grocery stores or online. Psychotherapy or “talk therapy” is another approach that many find helpful. This therapy focuses on identifying and changing negative thoughts and behaviours. Psychotherapy is often combined with learning skills such as meditation, yoga, or Tai Chi, all practices that help with stress management. There are a wide variety of pharmacological treatments that have proven to be very effective. Finally practice good sleep hygiene habits and maintain your regular sleep schedule.
A key thing to keep in mind is that SAD is a common medical condition suffered by thousands of people. It is not a weakness of character or an inability to “get on with it”. Reach out to a medical professional to get more information and put you on a path to better health.
For more information contact the Canadian Mental Health Association by clicking the button below.