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What is Seasonal Affective Disorder?

Jessica Pontis, LCSW

With the sun setting earlier and earlier you may notice the impact that the cold and lack of sunlight may be having.  What you may be experiencing are symptoms associated with Seasonal Affective Disorder, or SAD.  As the name would imply, SAD is a type of depression whose onset is brought upon by the changed of the season.  For most people symptoms of SAD begin the fall and continue through the winter months, though there are those whose symptoms may begin in early spring into summer.   

Many of the symptoms associated with SAD are identical to that of Major Depressive Disorder and can include feeling sad or low mood most of the day, loss of interest in activities you once enjoyed, problems sleeping, difficulty concentrating, feelings of hopelessness or guilt, and possibly increased thoughts of death or suicide.  If the onset of your symptoms are in the fall then you may oversleep, crave more carbohydrates, and feel increased tiredness.  If symptoms begin in the summer, you may find that you are having trouble sleeping, have little to no appetite, or feel increased levels of anxiety or anger.  

The potential causes of SAD are related to a drop in serotonin levels which can happen due to the decrease in sunlight.  The levels of melatonin naturally produced in the body are also impacted during this period of time, leading to the changes in sleep. 

Types of Treatment

There are a number of treatments from CBT to meditation and more.  Here are some types of treatments outlined more in detail.  

CBT – Cognitive behavioral therapy is a type of talk therapy that helps identify change and negative thoughts or behaviors associated with SAD.  

Supporting the mind-body connection – connecting with our bodies when impacted by SAD can be helpful in regulating its symptoms.  Some ways in which people like to prioritize their mind-body connection include relaxation techniques, mediation, and music, art, and movement therapies.  

Medications – some people benefit from medications which can include an anti-depressant or a medication for anxiety.  If medication is something that you’re interested in it helps to start taking the medication shortly before you anticipate the onset of symptoms.  If your symptoms typically start in October think about connecting with your provider in September to begin a regimen that works for you.  

Light Therapy – since the change in the amount of sunlight plays a big part in SAD, it makes sense that increasing the amount of light we are exposed to can help.  Light therapy involves a person sitting in front of a specialized bulb or lamp (that in this modern day and age can be easily purchased for the right price online) for the first hour of each day when you wake up.  This mimics the natural outdoor light and is particularly helpful for those with fall-onset of SAD.  

Additional Options – making the home as airy, bright, and tidy as you can could also be helpful in minimizing the impact of SAD.  Being active and trying to spend some time outdoors is also something to consider when treating symptoms of SAD.  While spending time outside during both the extremes of summer and winter, spending a little time outside of the home, as long as weather conditions are safe enough to do so, helps to make our worlds feel a little less compact.  

If you feel that you are impacted by SAD, or would simply like to connect with someone to walk with you on this journey reach out to one of the licensed therapists with Symmetry Counseling.  You can reach out to us online at symmetrycounseling.com, or by calling us at (312) 578-9990 to set up an appointment.

Mayo Foundation for Medical Education and Research. (2017, October 25). Seasonal affective disorder (SAD).

Mayo Clinic. Retrieved December 10, 2021, from https://www.mayoclinic.org/diseases-conditions/seasonal-affective-disorder/symptoms-causes/syc-20364651. 

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