Seasonal affective disorder (SAD) is a type of depression that comes and goes as the seasons change.
Symptoms can include:
Although the specific causes of SAD are unknown, some factors that may be involved include the natural changes that occur in your circadian rhythm or your biological clock during the fall and winter months. The reduced level of sunlight during these months may disrupt your body’s internal clock and can cause feelings of depression. Similarly, changes in brain chemicals, such as serotonin, which affects mood, and melatonin, which plays a role in sleep patterns and mood may be involved.
Treatment for SAD
Identifying symptoms early, recognizing patterns of mood changes historically and being aware of co-existing diagnoses is essential. For instance, if you have been diagnosed with bi-polar disorder, it is particularly important to speak to your treatment team about any changes in your mood. Changes in your current medication regimen may help in managing symptoms of SAD.
Treatments that can be effective for SAD include phototherapy, also called light therapy, can produce similar effects to the sun’s natural rays and can improve mood.
Psychotherapy, is another option to treat SAD. Cognitive behavioral therapy in particular can help you change negative thoughts and behaviors that may be making you feel worse, learn healthy ways to cope with SAD and learn how to manage your overall stress.
Exercise has proven to help people combat feeling of the blues in the winter. Not only does exercise improve mood, but it also has been shown to reduce stress, which often exacerbates feelings of depression brought on by the winter blues.
So: What Now?
If you are finding yourself still struggling with mood changes in spite of your efforts to manage it, consider reaching out for an in-person or remote session. Cognitive behavioral therapy can be extremely helpful.
Anna Breytman, Ph.D.
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