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Every year as Halloween passes and Thanksgiving creeps up, many people start to notice a change in how they feel. This change almost always coincides with the beginning of cold weather and shorter days. For many, this change is due to Seasonal Affective Disorder, also known as, SAD. SAD is a type of depression that usually occurs from mid-late fall through winter.

SAD Risk Factors

Like other mental health issues, SAD has risk factors that if present could indicate an increased likelihood of developing SAD.

Gender

Women are more likely than men to be diagnosed with SAD, but men have more severe symptoms. This could be due to a lower level of tolerance for emotional distress in men.

Family or Personal History

According to researchers, any family history of depression can increase the likelihood that you develop SAD in the winter. Similarly, if you have a history of bipolar disorder or clinical depression, chances increase that you could develop SAD.

Symptoms and Causes of SAD

Symptoms of SAD include mild to severe depression, weight gain, anxiety, lethargy, hopelessness, exhaustion, increased hunger, social withdrawal, difficulty concentrating, and an increased desire for carbohydrates.

Researchers are still only able to generate hypotheses as to what causes SAD. One theory discusses how the lack of sunlight may upset sleep-wake cycles and other circadian rhythms. Another theory is that lack of light causes problems with serotonin, a neurotransmitter that can affect mood. Other theories speak to the change in barometric pressure and how this could decrease melatonin production and exacerbate mood changes.

Because SAD can look like other mental health disorders, it is important to consult a doctor and/or therapist to receive a proper diagnosis.

Treatment Tips

Light Therapy

For many SAD sufferers, light therapy is the most helpful treatment for SAD. Light therapy can take many forms. SAD sufferers should add more lamps, light candles, open window shades and get as much light as possible into their homes. Some people buy specifically designed lamps that mirror sunlight and put them in their home or in their offices at work. By duplicating the natural light of the sun, you can lower the effect of SAD symptoms.

Exercise

Exercise can help fight off SAD symptoms. If you can achieve thirty minutes of exercise a day, preferably outdoors, you can decrease sad symptoms. The mood lifting effects of exercise combine with the effects of sunlight when you exercise outdoors.

Diet

One of the symptoms of SAD is an increased urge for carbohydrates. However, leaning into these cravings can increase the negative symptoms of SAD. Decreasing carbs and replacing them with high protein meals can help lift some of the SAD fog. Check with your physician about taking a multi-vitamin supplement which can also alleviate some of the symptoms of SAD.

Medication

For some, SAD is debilitating and can lead to limits in functioning. For those, a medical or psychiatric consult is advisable. For those, SAD can be treated with the same medications used to treat depression, including SSRIs and others.

This post was initially posted on the blog of Council for Relationships.