With standard time returning this past weekend and daylight hours getting shorter for the next six weeks, you may start feeling a bit low or lethargic. If so, you may be experiencing seasonal affective disorder.
Seasonal affective disorder, SAD for short, is a type of depression. It affects 5 to 20 percent of people, most often during fall and winter months and in colder climates. Experts believe lack of sunlight contributes as it affects the body’s internal clock and internal chemistry. Aging and already having depression or a family history of it may increase your likelihood of developing SAD.
Women are diagnosed far more frequently than men with seasonal affective disorder. However, that may be misleading. Men are often less likely to report feelings of depression because of the stigma attached to mental health issues. Symptoms may often be downplayed or expressed through anger and irritation rather than crying and sadness. Substance abuse can also result.
Other symptoms include:
- Feeling depressed, daily and for long periods
- Lacking energy
- Trouble sleeping
- Trouble concentrating
- Appetite changes, especially an increased craving for “comfort foods,” and weight gain
- Frequent mood swings from high to low
- Feeling helpless, worried and guilty often without cause
- Decline in interest in things usually enjoyed
- Withdrawal from social activities
How to fight seasonal affective disorder
If you suspect you or a loved one may be experiencing SAD, the first step is to consult a healthcare professional for diagnosis and treatment. Recommendations often include light therapy, or phototherapy, to increase exposure to natural or artificial sunlight, such as:
- Altering your schedule so you get up earlier to take more advantage of the early daylight hours for exercise or activity.
- Taking a walk during lunch, especially on sunny days.
- Opening blinds and shades to let more light into your home.
- Moving your workspace near a window.
- Use a light box. The Yale School of Medicine recommends several large and small types.
Exercise or getting involved in a hobby or activity, especially an outdoor one, also helps fight the feelings of lethargy. In more severe cases, counseling or the use of antidepressants may also be prescribed.