Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD) is a type of depression that is related to the changes in the season. Symptoms typically start out mild in the fall and gradually become more severe as the winter approaches. This syndrome is often referred to as the "winter blues” because it is triggered by the lack of day light and the cold weather. Like other forms of depression, people who have SAD can be overwhelmed with feelings of guilt, anxiety and despair. They can feel like the energy in their body has been zapped resulting in sluggishness, poor concentration and little motivation to do activities that they once found to be pleasurable. Due to intrusive negative thoughts, they can easily become agitated. This high degree of irritability can make it hard to fall asleep and stay asleep, resulting in exhaustion and mood swings. One's appetite is often affected and accompanied by either weight gain or loss. Many people who have SAD suffer from low self-esteem.
Some of the factors that seem to play a role in the onset of SAD is a change in circadian rhythms. The research suggests the reduction in sunlight disrupts the body's internal clock and throws off one's sense of well-being. Not having enough sunlight can also cause of drop in serotonin, a neurotransmitter, that when lowered results in mood changes associated with depression and anxiety. The change in seasons can also disrupt the body's level of melatonin. Melatonin plays an important role in sleep patterns, affect and energy level.
There are several treatment options for individuals who suffer from Seasonal Affective Disorder. It is important to discuss your symptoms with your primary care physician (PCP) to rule out the possibility of other medical conditions that can cause mood changes. If your PCP does diagnose you with SAD, he will most likely refer you to a clinical psychologist for psychotherapy to learn strategies to identify and change negative thoughts and behaviors as well as learn relaxation techniques to reduce stress, bodily tension, and elevate one's mood.
Light Therapy, also called phototherapy is often utilized to treat SAD. Utilizing a special light box, a person sits in front of this special bright light for an hour each morning. The light therapy mimics the natural light that occurs in the spring and summer months and affects a change in the brain's chemicals linked to moods. Light therapy typically begins working within a few weeks and there are few negative side affects.
Some people benefit from medications. Wellbutrin is an anti-depressant that is often used to treat severe cases of SAD. The medication can be taken during the SAD season, from late fall until the end of winter each year. Exercise, meditation and stress management tools can also be helpful to reduce SAD symptoms.
Dr. Martin Klein is a clinical psychologist who specializes in Seasonal Affective Disorder. He has offices in Westport and Branford CT.
Dr. Martin Klein is a clinical psychologist who practices in Westport, Stamford and Fairfield CT. He works with children, adults and couples.