Season Affective Disorder (SAD)

Symptoms of SAD One of the most important distinguishing feature of SAD is that it is highly seasonal. SAD symptoms always start in the the autumn or early winter. The illness generally lasts for between five to seven months until spring, when the days grow significantly longer, and the symptoms disappear, leaving the sufferer perfectly healthy until the following autumn. Many of these people will also feel an increase in energy at the onset of spring

Four classic symptoms

  1. Increased desire to sleep
  2. Extreme lethargy
  3. Depression
  4. Increased appetite which often leads to weight gain
Winter depressions can be very very severe in some patients. It affects the way you function and, in some cases, interfere with your personal relationships. Mood certainly changes. Some people become sadder, to the point of experiencing real grief at times. Many of them become very irritable, some become very anxious. Sometimes the irritability can lead to feelings of violence. Many feel drowsy throughout the day. They cannot get "enough of sleep". Some increases their sleep by as much as two hours or more per day. They may fall asleep early in the evening or have a tough time getting out of their bed in the morning, showing all signs of sleep deprivation. Many experience a severe lack of energy which may manifest as inability to concentrate at work and a lack of vitality. To compensate for this lack of energy, many will go on an eating binge. Many crave foods which are high in carbohydrates. As a result of this overeating, many will put on weight during the winter months anywhere from 9 pounds to 30 pounds. Many find that they have no control on this excessive eating. (At spring and summer months, their eating habits will return to normal and most of them will lose the extra weight they have gained in winter only to gain them back in the next winter.)

Perhaps, the most important symptom of SAD is that all SAD sufferers feel depressed. They feel guilty for the lack of energy and the overeating. They sense a loss of self esteem, hopelessness and despair. Many find it hard to work. The number of "sick days" taken by the SAD sufferers in winter goes up dramatically. Many SAD sufferers will withdraw from the world and avoid social contacts.

The following symptoms are shown by some SAD sufferers; but not all.

  • Anxiety: Tension, inability to tolerate stress, phobias.
  • Social problems: Irritability, loss of pleasure in being with others and a desire to avoid contact, which could even turn to unwillingness to leave the home or bed.
  • Loss of libido: Decreased interest in sex.
  • Sleep problems: Tendency to sleep for longer periods. The sleep is restless and less satisfying. They wake up during the night.
  • Mood swings: In the spring when SAD lifts, some sufferers experience a dramatic swing in mood and a short period of hypomania, a sudden surge of energy and enthusiasm which brings problems of its own.
  • Menstrual difficulties: During the winter premenstrual tension may be worse than in other seasons, bringing irritability, sleep problems, appetite changes and low energy levels.
  • Hopelessness: Feelings of desperation and hopelessness, which sometimes lead to over-dependence on relationships, work, home.
  • Excessive eating and drinking: Carbohydrate foods, alcohol, coffee.
  • Increased sensitivity to pain: Headaches, muscle and joint pain.
  • Other physical ailments: Constipation, diarrhea, palpitations.

Profile of A Typical SAD Sufferer

SAD shows no discrimination. It affects everyone without any regard to class, race or occupation. It is found in both northern and southern hemisphere. It gets worse in countries which are far from the equator where there is a substantial difference in the length of day from summer to winter.

SAD affects both sexes. But it was found to affect women more than men. Typically, the disorder starts manifesting when the patient is 20-40 years of age. It, however, had been found in some children and some older adults.

SAD may be hereditary. Many SAD sufferers come from a family where a parent or a close relative suffer from SAD.

It is estimated that ten percent of the population in the USA suffer from SAD. In U.K., Australia and Canada, doctors estimate that five percent of the population suffer from SAD. The variation between the countries may be due to the difference in awareness level of the population of the readiness of the population to seek treatment for the disorder.

Almost all children with SAD suffer the following symptoms during the autumn and/or winter months:

  • Sadness
  • Anxiety
  • Irritability

Some will show symptoms such as:

  • Fatigue
  • Sleep problems, disturbed sleep, tendency to fall asleep during the day
  • Increase in appetite
  • Carbohydrate or junk food cravings
  • Headaches

Keep an eye for the following tell-tale signs of the performance at school:

  • Decline in academic achievements
  • Loss of desire to take part in activities, especially sports
  • Memory impairment
  • Poor organizational skills
  • Difficulty in writing

Children suffering from SAD may also show behavioral difficulties such as:

  • Withdrawal from family and friends
  • Crying spells
  • Temper tantrums
  • Tendency to watch a lot of television without retaining what is seen
  • In springtime become hypo manic with feelings of elation, talkativeness, sleepless nights and hyperactivity.

Children suffering from SAD is treated the same way as adults, i.e., Light Therapy.

  • Treatment
  • Bright Light Therapy

The main treatment for SAD is light therapy, specifically, bright light therapy. Researchers at more than 15 medical centers and clinics in both the U.S. and abroad have had much success with light therapy in patients with clear histories of SAD for at least several years. Marked improvement is usually observed within a week, if not sooner. The bad part is that the symptoms usually return in about a week when the lights are withdrawn. So, to take full advantage of the benefits of the light therapy you should stick with it. Most users, therefore, maintain a consistent daily schedule beginning, as needed, in autum or winter and usually continuing until the end of April, by which time outdoor light is sufficient to maintain good mood and high energy. Some people can skip treatments for one to three days, occasionally longer, without ill effect, but most start to slump quickly when treatment is interrupted

Common Sense Care

Get more natural sunlight. Keep your windows unobstructed by trimming the bushes around your windows and keep your curtains and blinds open. Use bright colors on walls and upholstery. These tend to reflect more light.

Sit near windows whenever possible. Head for a seat near the window when you are at work, on public transportation or at school. If possible, exercise near a window.

Take a walk. Studies have shown that a one-hour walk in midday winter sunlight can significantly lift the spirits. Stay physically active.

Take a winter vacation in the sun.

Develop a mental set that you are going to enjoy the winter (imagery). Imagine the best things of winter and see yourself enjoying these things. If it is going to happen, you might as well enjoy it.

Try a dawn simulator. These devices can be set like alarm clocks to produce an artificial dawn from one minute to three hours before the user awakens.

Buy an ionizer and use it in your house to keep the air fresh.

Plan active events for yourself in advance of the autumn.

Try to "drink in" as much sunshine as you can. If it is a sunny day, have your lunch outside (even if you have to wear an overcoat.) If it is gray and overcast, use as much light indoors as you can. Install some extra cool fluorescent lights and keep them on. Research has shown that some people will benefit even from marginal increase in light intensity. Try bright-light therapy. To be of benefit, the light must enter the eyes, but you shouldn't look directly at bright-light appliances. Simply sit near them facing the light source.
Laughter is said to help, if it is done in huge amounts. Laughter is said to release a brain chemical that counteracts SAD. Go for some comedy shows or watch more funnies on television. Lots of jogging is also said to help. It releases dopamine in the brain, one of the hormones SAD people seem short of.

Try a support group.

Educate yourself.

At least for some people, the bright light therapy may not help at all in alleviating their depression. Very often, this is because, their depression has nothing to do with SAD, although it may appear in winter. For example, it may be because you are depressed because you are isolated from all your friends and neighbors in winter. Typically, most people spend time alone at home in winter. There is not much of social gatherings. Another reason could be that you keep your dogs and cats inside the home during winter time, more than in spring and summer. You could be allergic to dogs and cats! If, so you will have allergy symptoms, that will result in poor sleep, that in turn, may be mistaken as SAD. If you are allergic to dogs, light therapy is not going to help, if the animals are still inside your home! (Ionizer might help though.)

One of the best ways to combat seasonal affective disorder is to maintain a healthy and positive mental and physical lifestyle. Are you taking the required vitamins and minerals everyday? Are you eating better, but more healthy food? Are you getting out everyday for exercise and light. (Try to walk outside rather than running on your treadmill in your basement even if there is snow outside. Play with your dog outside. Help your child make a snow man outside. Think about doing more activities outside to drink in more light.) Create more occasions so that you can be with your friends and loved ones. (Depression can happen anytime of the year!) Follow these guidelines:

  • Low fat diet. Avoid eating too much protein and red meat.
  • Take a daily vitamin with magnesium, B complex, and minerals. Eat more salads and fruits.
  • Minimize the intake of caffeine (and that includes tea.) Take herbal tea instead.
  • Try to minimize stresses. Overindulging in Christmas time are sure to bring out stress and depression in January when those bills start coming!
  • Eliminate refined sugar and flour.
  • Take a brisk walk outside.
  • Keep in touch with your friends. Have more get togethers.
  • Keep some spices or essential oils to keep inside of your home to smell good.

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