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The Effects of Seasonal Affective Disorder

When I reflected on the crankiness that characterized my last blog, it occurred to me that for months I have been sunlight-deprived. I leave my house at 8:00 am and return just as darkness has descended, around 6:00 pm. In addition, I rarely leave the Hilton Head Health campus during the workday. Thus, my daily contact with the outside world and the warmth of the sun has been minimal since late fall.

The aforementioned realization led me to revisit the symptoms of SAD, Seasonal Affective Disorder. If you’ve been feeling unusually sluggish these days, heaviness in your hands and legs, intense cravings for carbs or the desire to isolate, than you might be experiencing Seasonal Affective Disorder. Simply put, SAD is episodic depression occurring at a certain time of the year, usually during the winter months. One of the main causes of SAD is sensitivity to less sunlight exposure, which occurs with the long winter nights.  Symptoms associated with Seasonal Affective Disorder include:

  • Increased appetite with weight gain (weight loss is more common with other forms of depression)
  • Increased sleep and daytime sleepiness (too little sleep is more common with other forms of depression)
  • Less energy and ability to concentrate in the afternoon
  • Loss of interest in work or other activities
  • Slow, sluggish, lethargic movement
  • Social withdrawal
  • Unhappiness and irritability

If you are suffering from SAD, I would recommend your first course of treatment start with taking long walks during daylight hours and getting regular exercise. Try to work-in plenty of exposure to sunlight. Aim to eat your lunch outside on occasion even if it means having to bundle-up. Also, keep active socially, even if it involves some effort.

Keep in mind that symptoms associated with SAD usually get better on their own with the change of season. However, if your symptoms continue or worsen, make an appointment with your physician. As with other types of depression, antidepressant medications and talk therapy can be effective treatments for SAD. Light Therapy, involving a special lamp with very bright fluorescent bulbs that mimic light from the sun, is also frequently prescribed for the treatment of SAD.

Don’t let seasonal depression derail you. Recognize the symptoms and take action. Inaction is what leads us further into a downward spiral which can dim the light at the end of the tunnel. As it has been said before…Let There Be Light!

Click the link for more information on Seasonal Affective Disorder.

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