When fall heads toward winter and the amount of daylight starts to decrease, many people experience some changes in energy, mood, or sleeping and eating patterns. Some people experience no changes or only a few, others experience mild changes that don’t cause problems or may be a bit of a nuisance (e.g., the “winter blahs”). Others experience dramatic changes that do cause problems in their lives and this may be related to SAD, or Seasonal Affective Disorder.
Symptoms of Seasonal Affective Disorder can include the following:
- Increased feelings of stress or anxiety
- Lowered mood and/or increased sadness
- Increased irritability
- Increased appetite, weight, and cravings for “junk food” (esp. carbohydrates)
- Change in school performance
- Feeling tired/washed out, increased sleeping
- Decreased sex drive
- Vague physical complaints
Other conditions can mimic SAD, including hypothyroidism, hypoglycemia, a chronic viral illness, or chronic fatigue syndrome. So, if you think you may have SAD, it’s a good idea to get a physical check up to rule out such health conditions – especially if you have a personal or family history of such concerns.
The winter blahs typically do not require professional assistance or treatment. There are several strategies one can try to “lighten up”, including:
-use full spectrum, high intensity fluorescent light bulbs
-wear brightly colored clothing
-add some color to your white walls
-own a plant
-exercise regularly – at least 30-minute sessions 3 times a week or multiple 10-15 minute sessions a week
It’s not always quite as easy to decrease the effects of Seasonal Affective Disorder, however, there are things you can do to decrease its effects. The strategies above for the winter blahs may be of some help. In addition, consider the following:
-light therapy has been proven to help with SAD*
-regular exercise has also been proven to help
-sleep restriction, that is, try limiting your sleep to no more than 7-9 hours a night (-but still get at least 7 hours!)
-eat a balanced diet (i.e., not just those craved carbs!)
-effectively manage – or learn to manage – your overall stress level
-antidepressants can help if the symptoms of SAD are severe and greatly affect mood
*The Counseling Center has a light therapy box in the Ebersole lobby available for use on a first-come basis, free of charge, during office hours. There is information about SAD and light therapy next to the light box. Light therapy is not recommended for individuals with bipolar disorder (aka manic depression), and if you have eye problems you should consult your physician before using light therapy.
Below are some links to additional information about SAD and light therapy, as well as some related books.
“Winter Blues: Seasonal Affective Disorder and How to Overcome It” by Norman Rosenthal, M.D.
“Seasons of the Mind” by Norman Rosenthal, M.D.
“Don’t be SAD: Your Guide to Conquering Seasonal Affective Disorder” by Celeste Peters
“The Light Book” by Jan Wegscheider Hyman
“Brighten Your Life” by Daniel F. Kripke, M.D. with the assistance of Beverly Trainer (http://www.brightenyourlife.info/)