Seasonal Affective Disorder

Some 12 million Americans suffer to some extent from SAD, or Seasonal Affective Disorder, a condition that makes many people feel blue when skies are gray.

Actually, some people with SAD experience it in the summer, though winter is the most common time. Either way, it’s a change in mood that predictably comes with the seasons. In some cases, SAD can be a form of depression, while for others it can bring symptoms like insomnia, food cravings, and low energy.

While SAD was first officially named and described by researchers at the National Institute of Mental Health in 1984, descriptions of the condition can be found in literature from the 6th century on.

According to the American Psychiatric Association, SAD is connected with changes in the brain caused by shorter days and less sunlight. SAD can therefore sometimes be treated by phototherapy — light therapy. Other treatments include physical exercise, medication or supplements, and other types of therapies used for other forms of depression.

If you notice that you feel a bit down in the winter, there are some things you can try:

  • Rearrange your office so that your desk is near a window. If this is impossible, change out your light bulbs for brighter lights. Many people like to spend winter evenings in a fire-lit room or to close curtains on cold days in order to save energy. These are not wise moves if you suffer from SAD.
  • Make sure to take some time outdoors each day. Walk your dog, take a bike ride with your kids, or just have lunch outdoors in the sunlight. Regular outdoor exercise has been shown to be effective.
  • Get enough Vitamin D. While studies on SAD and Vitamin D are not yet conclusive, many Americans don’t get enough of this vitamin. Eggs, fortified milk (the milk sold in your local grocery store), and fish like salmon and sardines are all good sources of Vitamin D.

If your symptoms are more severe, you should talk with your health care provider. Be sure to mention that your symptoms are seasonal in nature. Without that information, SAD can look like other conditions.

Read more about SAD at the website of the American Psychiatric Association.

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