What is Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD)?
If you have a history of struggling a bit during the long winter months in Maine, is it just the winter blues or something more involved? You or someone you know may suffer from something called, Seasonal Affective Disorder, also known as SAD. As many as six out of 100 people are known to experience SAD. However, it is important to note that SAD is more than the winter blues.
While winter blues may include sleeping a bit more, wanting to stay inside, mood fluctuation, etc., it does not necessarily rise to the level of meeting criteria for SAD.
SAD symptoms can include the following:
- Excessive sleepiness during the day and sleeping more than usual at night
- Increased appetite, overeating and weight gain, along with a preference for carbohydrate food
- Extreme loss of energy, and loss of social activity
- Lack of enjoyment in previously enjoyed activities
- Severe cases may involve thoughts of death or suicide
SAD symptoms occur nearly every day for at least two weeks at a time and occur during the Winter months recurrently. It is typical for people with this disorder to notice symptoms emerging once daylight decreases in the late fall and early winter. January and February tend to be the most difficult months for people with SAD.
Managing SAD while at work
Sheila Thibodeau, associate vice president of Northern Light Health Wellness Services and Healthy Life EAP, suggests the following strategies –
- Use a small light therapy box, either first thing in the morning while at home, or while at work for about 20 to 30 minutes
- Stay hydrated throughout the day
- Take breaks from your desk to stretch, or go for short walks
- Engage in Cognitive Behavioral Therapy with a qualified clinician
- Finally, for some people medications can be effective in managing SAD symptoms
It’s important to speak to your primary care or mental health provider to develop the best plan for you to manage the SAD symptoms.
Additionally, according to Thibodeau, “Because mood and energy changes in the winter are less about the cold weather and primarily about lack of light, winter activities and spending time outside are also helpful ways to combat SAD. The more we can stay active and engaged, the better. With less light, research indicates that our brains are producing less serotonin - one of our ‘feel good’ chemicals.”
Finding ways to boost our serotonin in the winter through activities like skiing, snowshoeing, walking, building a snowman, etc. can be enjoyable ways to naturally increase light exposure. If we need to be inside for a large portion of the day, something as simple as sitting in a window where light can come through can also help to elevate our mood and combat symptoms of SAD. For support and to discuss your own experiences and needs related to the change of seasons, reach out to your personal wellness/ healthcare provider to learn more!
For information regarding Northern Light Health Behavioral Care Services please go to Behavioral Care Services - Northern Light Health.