Living Well: Seasonal Affective Disorder
A common trend in the Northwoods
By Heidi Karns, LCSW
Behavioral Health Specialist,Ministry Medical Group
Although the winter so far has been kind to us, we all know that northern Wisconsin winters can seem never-ending. For some, what may seem like the winter time blues is actually Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD).
SAD is a type of depression that occurs about the same time each year usually beginning in late fall and continuing into the winter months. For those with SAD, winter activities such as skiing, ice fishing, snowmobiling, and snowshoeing are met with disdain. Sitting in front of a cozy fire is not one’s idea of a good time and family members begin to compare your mood to the Grinch in How the Grinch Stole Christmas.
SAD is more than just a changing of seasons. It is a real form of depression that can seriously impact a person mentally and socially. Although anyone can be affected, people between the ages of 15 and 55 have an increased risk of developing SAD and even though its more commonly diagnosed in women, men may experience more severe symptoms.
SAD is more common in people who live far north or south of the equator (we are over 3,000 miles from the equator) where daylight hours are very short in the winter months and the difference between seasons is more extreme. A person’s family history is also a risk factor and people with SAD may be more likely to have a blood relative with the same disorder or another form of depression.
SAD Symptoms can vary in severity and may include:
• Tiredness or low energy
• Problems getting along with others
• Sleep disturbances-oversleeping
• Appetite changes, especially a craving for foods high in carbohydrates
• Weight gain
• Loss of motivation
• Sense of worthlessness
• Withdrawal from other people
So, what do you do if you feel you have symptoms of SAD and these symptoms are interfering with your day to day life? There are a number of options available to you. Some of these include:
Light therapy: This helps many people with SAD and causes few side effects. With light therapy, a person sits a few feet from a special light therapy box and is exposed to bright light. These boxes use fluorescent lights that are brighter than indoor lights but not as bright as sunlight. Because there are many different types of light boxes on the market, talk with your primary care provider first about the best one for you.
Antidepressants: Speak with your primary care clinician if you feel you are in need of medication to cope with your SAD. If your clinician prescribes such medication, be sure to take it as directed.
Counseling: Some types of counseling can help you learn more about SAD and how to manage the symptoms.
Exercise: Regular exercise is one of the best things you can do for yourself. If the sun is out, try to get outside for a walk. Being active during the daytime, especially early in the day, may help you have more energy and feel less depressed.
Mind-body therapies: Some people find relief with such activities as yoga, meditation, guided imagery, and massage therapy.
Please remember that winter time can be difficult for many people. If you find that you are experiencing symptoms of SAD and these symptoms are impacting your life, talk with your primary care clinician about the best course of treatment for you.
For more information on Behavioral Health Services offered by Ministry Health Care, please visit ministryhealth.org.