Monday, March 3, 2014

Living With Seasonal Affective Disorder

If you start feeling a little out of sorts at the change of seasons, there might be a good explanation. It’s estimated that approximately half a million individuals are adversely affected by the changing seasons, with many unaware of the cause. But, with greater awareness, an array of treatment options and a plan for self-care, you’ll be back to feeling like yourself in no time.

What is Seasonal Affective Disorder?

Seasonal Affective Disorder, also known as S.A.D., is a type of depression that occurs seasonally. Typically, symptoms affect individuals in the fall and winter months, lasting until the warmer summer months.

What are the symptoms of S.A.D.?

According to the Mayo Clinic, individuals affected by fall/winter S.A.D. usually experience the following types of symptoms:

Loss of energy
Heavy feelings in the arms and legs
Social withdrawal
Loss of interest in activities usually enjoyed
Appetite changes, especially craving high carbohydrate foods
Weight gain
Difficulty concentrating

Does S.A.D. only occur in the fall/winter?

Many individuals are unaware that a second type of S.A.D. can occur from spring to early summer. The spring/summer form of S.A.D. is not as common as the fall/winter form. There is a different set of symptoms that accompany spring/summer S.A.D.

Symptoms of spring/summer S.A.D. include:

Difficulty sleeping (insomnia)
Increased sex drive
Poor appetite
Weight loss

How is S.A.D. diagnosed?

Your health provider can diagnose S.A.D. based on your symptoms, creating a treatment plan specifically for you.

What causes S.A.D.?

While the exact cause remains unclear, experts agree that genetics, age and your body’s chemical makeup all play a role in developing Seasonal Affective Disorder.  Changes in exposure to sunlight may affect S.A.D. by disrupting your circadian rhythm, causing a decrease in serotonin levels and affecting melatonin levels in the body.

Does S.A.D. affect men and women differently?

Yes, typically women are diagnosed with S.A.D. more often than men. However, men may experience more severe symptoms.

Are certain individuals more susceptible to S.A.D.?

Yes, especially:

Those who live farther from the equator.
Individuals with a family history of S.A.D.
Those who have clinical depression or bipolar disorder.

What is the treatment for S.A.D.?

Light therapy (phototherapy)

What can you do to help alleviate the symptoms of S.A.D. at home?

Make your home sunnier and brighter by opening shades and curtains, allowing as much natural light in as possible.
Get outside, even on cold or overcast days.
Exercise regularly. It’s a great stress reliever and produces endorphins, which help you feel and look better.

What other factors should you consider in the treatment of S.A.D.?

According to a recent article, if you suffer from S.A.D., holiday time can be particularly challenging. Experts suggest:

Limit your alcohol consumption at parties and festivities.
Don’t let holiday overspending dampen your spirits, causing unnecessary worry and depression.
Be aware that fatty, sugar-laden foods can sap energy.
Recognize if you’re feeling overwhelmed by obligations – family traditions and work parties, for instance –and reduce your commitment to these activities.
If you’re feeling nostalgic, especially if spending the holidays alone or far from family, socialize, volunteer or find another way to connect with others.

S.A.D. is by no means a sign of weakness or a character flaw. It’s a chemical imbalance in your body that can be managed with the proper treatment. Don’t be afraid or ashamed to get help if you need it.

Kathy Rembisz
Contributing Writer

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