Could You Have Seasonal Affective Disorder?

This year, don't let your mood fall with the leaves.

After a week of unseasonably warm temperatures, it feels like fall has really begun in the Upper Valley! While this season brings the opportunity for enjoyable activities, some people may notice their mood start to worsen as the year progresses, and the fall may mark the beginning of Seasonal Affective Disorder, or SAD.

People with SAD experience symptoms of depression that typically begin in the fall and resolve in the spring. Common symptoms of SAD includes:

  • Depressed Mood
  • Reduced Energy
  • Difficulty Sleeping
  • Change in Diet
  • Feelings of Hopelessness and Worthlessness

People with SAD are more likely than other people with depression to report increased sleep, weight gain, and craving for particular foods, including carbohydrates. 

There are several ways that the change in season can have an effect on your mood. As the days get shorter, and the weather turns colder, it can be harder to take part in rewarding activities. Many researchers have found a relationship between latitude and SAD—people living further north, where winter days are particularly short, are more vulnerable to seasonal depression. While it’s not clear exactly what causes SAD, one important factor is disruption to your body’s daily sleep-wake cycle, or circadian rhythm. Your circadian rhythm is controlled by specialized parts of your brain that detect sunrise and sunset.

For this reason, one common treatment for seasonal affective disorder is light therapy, or phototherapy. Light therapy uses special lights that mimic sunlight, replacing the exposure to natural light that can be difficult to get during the winter. While phototherapy lights are available without a prescription, it can be helpful to speak with a doctor to learn how to use this treatment effectively.

In addition to light therapy, psychotherapy can be useful in managing the symptoms of SAD. Cognitive behavioral therapy has been shown to be effective in treating a variety of mood problems. Cognitive behavioral therapists work with you to identify thoughts and beliefs that contribute to feeling depressed or hopeless, and develop strategies to increase your motivation and activity level.

For more information about seasonal affective disorder, or to speak with a therapist, contact Enhance Health at (603) 448-0055.