Many people with mood disorders, and those without, struggle in the cooler months with shorter days and much less sunlight. When the sun goes down, so does our energy and mood.
For those with Seasonal Affective Disorder [SAD], this change can be debilitating. The change in seasons and less daylight hours can lead to missed days from school or work, relationship problems and drastic changes in mood and weight. The effects of SAD can be devastating.
As a therapist, I come across many clients who experience symptoms such as these and come to understand these cluster of behaviors and experiences as SAD. As the summer months wind down, I can hear the worry and concern in their voices: “But what is winter going to be like for me?”
SAD affects between 1 and 10% of the general population in the United States. Region and climate determine most of the prevalence.
Characterized by symptoms normally relegated to depression such as lethargy, decreased motivation, oversleeping, a change in eating habits, people with SAD may also experience periods of irritability and agitation.
Those who face fall and winter affected by SAD find themselves bracing for the worst. There is an expectation that all of their hard work during the spring and summer months will go down the drain.
I try to help my clients see the possibility and opportunity in each new season. Every challenge is an opportunity for a new beginning, perhaps a healthier one.
If you are someone who struggles with SAD, there are options to cope with it and feel happier.
Due to the shorter days and weather changes that come with fall and winter, there is a lack of light that disrupts the production of serotonin, dopamine and other “feel good” brain chemicals. People can moderate this by using prescribed light therapy. This involves using bright lights during specific times of the day. There are special light bulbs and gadgets that will help mimic the natural rising and setting of the sun as if it were another time of year.
Drug therapy [pharmacotherapy] is another option for treating SAD. A regulation of the neurotransmitters in the brain can produce a better mood. Medication may also help counteract some of the behavioral hallmarks of SAD such as oversleeping and excessive eating.
Talk therapy is another option for those trying to manage Seasonal Affective Disorder. Cognitive Behavioral Therapy [CBT] can be helpful in identifying problem behaviors or thoughts. I often work with my clients to address those powerful thoughts and behaviors that limit their functioning.
I work with clients to help them replace these thoughts and behaviors with alternatives to maintain a healthier lifestyle during fall and winter seasons. Cognitive therapy can empower clients with new strategies to reframe their experience and see the world through a balanced perspective.
Other options for treating SAD include nutrition and exercise changes as well as combination of all the previously mentioned approaches.
If you are struggling with SAD, these are some of the options you can consider to help you move forward.