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What Does Seasonal Affective Disorder Feel Like?

written by: wendyppp • edited by: Paul Arnold • updated: 7/11/2010

Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD) affects anywhere from 15-30% of people in the US each year. But you don't have to let it stop you from living a normal life. Here we'll attempt to answer some questions for you, such as what does SAD feel like? - so you can feel confident in treating it.

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    Seasonal Affective Disorder

    Seasonal Affective Disorder, also known as SAD, is a type of depression that occurs seasonally, usually in the winter time. It is a cyclical disorder, which means that it will appear and then go away at approximately the same time each year. No one really knows what causes it, but many believe that brain chemicals are changed because of the shorter days. Levels of melatonin, which regulates sleep and mood are disrupted and there are also falls in the levels of the other mood regulator, serotonin. The exact mechanism of how these changes occur is still unknown.

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    What Does Seasonal Affective Disorder Feel Like?

    So you might be wondering, “What does seasonal affective disorder feel like?” Well it feels very much like depression, because that is, in fact, what it is. Some of the symptoms include;

    • Sadness
    • Changes in sleep patterns, either too much or too little sleep
    • Weight loss or gain
    • Increased or decreased appetite
    • Loss of interest in activities you normally enjoy
    • Irritability
    • Hopelessness

    People with SAD also tend to feel like the energy has been drained from them, and there are bouts of unexplained fatigue.

    Since seasonal affective disorder usually occurs during the winter many people simply dismiss it as “cabin fever” or a case of “the winter blahs” but it is very different. Seasonal affective disorder is a medical condition that requires treatment, so if you think you may be affected by it, be sure to see a doctor.

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    What are the Chances I Could Be Affected?

    As with other forms of depression, women are more likely to develop seasonal affective disorder than men. Also, those with a family history of depression in general, and seasonal affective disorder in particular are also at a higher risk. Those who live far from the equator are also at an increased risk. This adds to the theory that seasonal affective disorder is caused by the brain's response to decreased sunlight during the winter.

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    How can I Treat Seasonal Affective Disorder?

    A type of light therapy lamp So now that we’ve answered the question “What does seasonal affective disorder feel like?” we can talk about treatment. There is a treatment for seasonal affective disorder that is unique to this condition. It’s light therapy. Because seasonal affective disorder is thought to have some correlation with sunlight, doctors will often recommend that patients get a special light, called a full spectrum light. There are many styles and sizes available but the light bulbs are really the part that is special.

    They simulate sunlight. Most indoor light bulbs are not a close approximation of sunlight. Objects can take on a yellowish hue with soft white bulbs or a greenish hue with fluorescent bulbs. But full spectrum bulbs cover the full spectrum of light. Therefore the brain chemicals that are affected can often be regulated, as the brain is tricked into thinking there is more sunlight than there actually is. Though this is not always the case.

    Sometimes light therapy isn’t enough on its own to treat seasonal affective disorder. Because it is a form of depression, doctors will often prescribe depression medications or talk therapy for patients as well.

    If you think you may have seasonal affective disorder, you can always purchase a light online and see if it helps. If it doesn’t then, be sure to see your doctor.

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    Picture Credit

    Image released under creative commons license.