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Seasonal affective disorder (SAD), also referred to as the winter blues, is a mood disorder that is very similar to depression. Sufferers of SAD experience good mental health for most of the year, but then have feelings of sadness, anxiety and other symptoms at specific times.
The most common time for people to experience seasonal affective disorder is during the fall and winter months when the days are the shortest and there isn’t much sunlight. Those who live closer to the equator haven’t been found to suffer from SAD as much as those who live further from it.
Understanding the symptoms will allow you to find the best ways of treating seasonal affective disorder.
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Symptoms of Seasonal Affective Disorder
The symptoms of SAD are also similar to symptoms of depression and these symptoms include:
- Overeating, specifically carbohydrates that leads to weight gain
- Loss of interest in activities you normally enjoy
While it isn’t nearly as common, some people do have seasonal affective disorder during the summer months and these symptoms include:
- Weight loss
- Increased sex drive
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Options for Treating Seasonal Affective Disorder
There are a number of different treatment options that you can try to cope with seasonal affective disorder. Numerous studies have shown that people who have low levels of Vitamin D are the ones who tend to feel more depressed. For this reason, light therapy is a very popular treatment method for SAD.
There are two different types of light therapy with the first being bright light treatment. This involves a light box that you sit in front of for 30 to 60 minutes per day. You don’t need to stare directly at the light you just need to have your eyes open. You should use bright light treatment first thi ng in the morning for 30 minutes and you may also decide to repeat the session at night. There are claims that florescent lighting works best, but another popular light therapy treatment involves a light box with full spectrum lights to mimic natural light.
You should never use tanning beds for light therapy because they contain UV rays that are harmful to eyes and skin.
The second type of light therapy is known as dawn simulation. This type of treatment involves turning on a dim light in the morning (or the light can be set to a timer) that gets brighter as the morning goes on. It imitates a sunrise - a rare sight in dull and dark winters -and allows you to wake up naturally.
Antidepressant medications are commonly used to repair the chemical imbalance that your brain may be experiencing. If used as instructed they can help you deal with the symptoms you're experiencing from SAD. The most commonly prescribed medications are Prozac, Paxil, Zoloft and Celexa. If you aren’t interested in taking prescription medications there is still one other way of treating seasonal affective disorder that you may find very helpful.
Cognitive-behavioral therapy involves meeting with an experienced psychologist on a regular basis who can work with you to help you understand seasonal affective disorder and how to deal with the symptoms. You will learn ways to cope with them and how to challenge and overcome the negative feelings and thought patterns you have.
You may also have the opportunity to meet in small groups to discuss seasonal affective disorder. Many SAD sufferers find this comforting. They realize they are not alone and draw strength by speaking with others who are having the same difficulties. It is also beneficial because some people will swap coping strategies, and the very act of trying to help someone benefits them greatly.
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Treating Seasonal Affective Disorder
Seasonal affective disorder can affect any person of any age living anywhere around the world. But it’s more common in those aged 15 to 55 who live in areas that experience shorter days during a specific season, such as winter.
Treating seasonal affective disorder is encouraged, and you can speak with your doctor to determine the best treatment options for you. It’s highly likely that they will suggest either light therapy, antidepressants, cognitive-behavioral therapy or a combination of all three.
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MedicineNet.com: What Is Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD) http://www.medicinenet.com/seasonal_affective_disorder_sad/article.htm
FamilyDoctor.org: Seasonal Affective Disorder http://familydoctor.org/online/famdocen/home/common/mentalhealth/depression/267.html
Image credit - picture released into the public domain under GNU Free Documentation License