SAD (Seasonal Affective Disorder) is a type of depression that affects millions of people every winter between September and April- particularly during December, January and February. SAD is caused by a biochemical imbalance in the hypothalamus due to the shortening of daylight hours of daylight hours and the lack of sunlight in winter. Seasonal affective disorder symptoms include:
- Loss of energy
- Heavy, “leaden” feeling
- Social withdrawal
- Loss of interest in activities you once enjoyed
- Appetite changes, especially a craving for foods high in carbohydrates
- Weight gain
- Difficulty concentrating
Symptoms may start out mild and become more severe as the season progresses. For many people, SAD is a seriously disabling illness, preventing them from functioning normally without some medical assistance. For others, is is discomforting and apathetic, a condition typically called “the winter blues”. In every case, conquering the symptoms can have a significant effect on quality of life, sense of energy and alertness. In most cases, symptoms go away during the sunnier days of spring and summer.
Light therapies have proven effective in over 80% of diagnosed SAD cases. Whether using a dawn simulator clock, a stationary light box, or a portable Light Visor, light treatments should be used daily through the winter months, starting in early autumn. Relief from many symptoms is often achieved within a week. Each light therapy product has different specifics about use, but they all generally require sitting in front of the light for certain time limits daily. The more photons reach the retina, the faster the light session will be. Of course, exposure to as much natural sunlight can also be helpful.
Traditional antidepressants are usually not helpful for SAD because they exacerbate lethargy and sleepiness. Psychotherapy, cognitive behavioral therapy, and other counseling that can help a person with SAD to relax, to understand and accept their condition and cope with its symptoms can be useful.