Symptoms of seasonal affective disorder can be managed effectively

Seasonal affective disorder (SAD) affects some people during the late fall and winter months. Read on for tips that can help manage this condition.

Seasonal affective disorder (SAD) is depression that occurs during a certain time of the year, generally in late fall or winter. SAD isn’t just a case of the “blues” – it’s a cyclical pattern of depression during winter months, with improvement during other times of the year.

Most SAD symptoms stem from daily body rhythms that have gone out-of-sync with the sun, a National Institute of Mental Health-funded study has found. Just as the seasonal activities of animals are affected by sunlight, also are the activities of humans.

Symptoms of SAD are much the same as any form of depression. They include:

  • Tiredness and loss of energy
  • An increased need for sleep
  • Craving of carbohydrates
  • Weight gain
  • Withdrawal – general disinterest in socializing
  • An overall sense of hopelessness, unhappiness and/or irritability

There are no biological tests for SAD. Health care professionals generally rule out other causes by performing tests and analyzing blood.

SAD is a manageable condition, but it is important to seek the assistance of a trained medical professional and not to self-diagnose the disorder.

Michigan State University Extension suggests the following ways that people can improve their symptoms:

  • Get more sunlight. Ways to do this are enjoying the outdoors during sun hours and, when indoors having a window near where one sits or works during the sunny part of the day.
  • Taking medication as prescribed. Medical professionals report success with prescribing melatonin for use during certain times of the day, based on the circadian rhythms (personal “body clock”) of the specific person.
  • Eat healthy foods.
  • Exercise.
  • Spend time doing enjoyable activities with positive and upbeat people.
  • Prescribed light therapy may make a difference for some people in treating the symptoms of SAD. This involves exposure to a very bright light (usually fluorescent) for 30 minutes or more each day during the winter months.
  • Some people may need mental health therapy and/or prescription anti-depressants during this time of the year.

Alcohol and illegal drugs can make SAD worse. They can also impair one’s judgment when making decisions and dealing with other people.

If you think you may be experiencing the symptoms of SAD it is important to seek the opinion of a trained medical professional. In cases of severe depression or if having suicidal thoughts contact a medical professional or the emergency room of a local hospital immediately.

For more information related to SAD visit the website for the National Institutes of Health. Additional information about preventing or managing chronic illnesses, as well as other issues of interest to families may be obtained by contacting a MSU Extension office in your area.

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