Understanding Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD)

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Most of us know that our surroundings can have a big impact on our mood, so we try to do things like brighten up rooms with artwork and plants or keep the shades open if we’re going to be working inside all day.

But what about when Mother Nature herself seems to be conspiring against you?

Many people get a little bit moody and sad when summer slips into fall and winter, but what you might not know is that extreme feelings in this vein that occur at the same time every year can be a sign of a serious condition called Seasonal Affective Disorder, or SAD.

Though some people don’t believe the condition is real, medical experts disagree and say that somewhere between 10 and 12 million Americans have some form of the disease. That’s 1 out of every 30 people!

How Do You Know If You Have SAD?

Unfortunately, there are no diagnostic tests that doctors can give to determine whether or not you suffer from SAD. They are only able to diagnose people with the condition by observing them and using their history. True SAD sufferers:

• Only experience depression during a specific season — usually winter.
• Have gone through this depression for at least the last two years in a row.
• Have seasons with depressive symptoms that outnumber those without depressive symptoms.

Without those three things, Seasonal Affective Disorder cannot be given as a diagnosis.

Still there are things that can make you a more likely candidate to suffer from the condition. People in colder northern climates are far more likely to get it than those who live in places that are warm and sunny all year round. Those who don’t get a lot of light have a greater chance of suffering from SAD, because experts believe this is what leads to the negative effects on the brain.

Most people with SAD are women, so depressed men are likely suffering from something known as the “winter blues” or possibly another form of depression. And because there seems to be a genetic link, those with relatives who have Seasonal Affective Disorder, another depressive disorder, or who abuse alcohol are also more likely to get SAD.


What Does SAD Look Like?

There are many symptoms associated with Seasonal Affective Disorder. Unfortunately, many also occur in those who are dealing with other psychological issues, so they can’t confirm the presence of SAD all by themselves. Still, it’s important to know what to look for so the diagnosis can eventually be made – and you can get the help you need.

• Body aches
• Crying spells
• Fatigue
• Irritability
• Poor sleep
• Trouble thinking or concentrating
• Feeling tired
• Overeating
• Decreased activity level
• Weight gain
• Loss of sexual desire
• Depression


What Can You Do About SAD?

If you have been diagnosed with Seasonal Affective Disorder, or truly believe that you have the condition, there are several things you can do to alleviate your suffering.

Counseling. When you are dealing with a trying psychological issue, you go to see a psychologist or psychiatrist. There’s no difference when that problem is SAD instead of bipolar disorder or another disease. While it certainly doesn’t help everyone, many find that simply going to counseling and talking to a professional helps to make them feel better.

Get away. As the name implies, Seasonal Affective Disorder is related to the changing season. So if falling leaves, colder temperatures, and darkening skies make you feel like you just can’t cope, one potential solution is to leave and head somewhere with a more hospitable climate. For most, simply planning your vacation to skip town for the worst of it is enough, but there are some who find that their symptoms don’t completely disappear until they pick up and move.

Phototherapy. Since SAD symptoms are believed to be related to a lack of light, some people receive treatment that includes being exposed to artificial or natural light for a set period of time each day. Apparently it works quite well, because 80% of people show improvement within 2 to 4 days.

If you’re worried about SAD and want to learn more, this infographic from Yellowbrick covers a lot of ground.

Mother Earth Living
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