I don’t know about you, but I’ve noticed the days are much shorter, darker, and colder than they were just a few weeks ago. Waking up in the dark is no fun.
For some, it can be a real challenge. As fall ushers in a major change from the long summer days, some begin struggling with depressive symptoms that can worsen and last through the winter.
The “winter blues,” also called Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD), impacts about 5 percent of the overall U.S. population. However, some work suggests that number doubles in the more northern states where temperatures get cooler and the days even shorter.
It can be difficult to recognize and diagnose SAD because symptoms closely resemble different forms of depression. The only real way to diagnose the condition is for symptoms to appear for two consecutive years, with symptoms beginning and ending around the same time, without continuing during the spring and summer months.
Symptoms of SAD include depression, anxiety, mood changes, sleep trouble, altered eating habits, lethargy, fatigue, and sexual problems. Sufferers may feel a sense of hopelessness, misery, guilt, low self-esteem, tension, and an inability to tolerate stress, or they may exhibit diminished interest in things they typically enjoy.
It’s also possible people with SAD may show mood extremes, with periods of mania during the summer months.
So what can you do if you think you’ve got SAD? The first thing is to speak with your doctor about how you’re feeling and keeping tabs so a diagnosis can be made.
Various prevention and treatment techniques are being studied. Some theorize that starting treatment early in the fall may help prevent or reduce symptoms through the winter when days are at the shortest, darkest, and coldest.
Light therapy is one of the most common and potentially helpful treatments. It involves a powerful light box, which can be used to wake up or sit by in the morning.
Exposure to natural light during the daytime may also help, so open blinds and sit by the windows, when possible, during the day.
Talk therapy may also help sufferers deal with symptoms, and getting outside for walks during the day may also help. Taking to friends and maintaining social relationships may also help with symptoms and relieve some of the struggles of SAD.