Many people experience feeling down when the weather is cold and overcast but some people experience more significant symptoms when the winter months arrive. This condition is a form of depression called Seasonal Affective Disorder or SAD. Most people with SAD have symptoms that begin in the fall and resolve in the spring. The exact months can vary with the individual.
Common symptoms of SAD include:
- Sleeping more than usual
- Eating more than usual especially craving starchy foods
- Difficulty with relationships, especially feeling like they are being rejected
- Feeling sluggish, as though their arms and legs are weighted down
While everyone may experience some of these symptoms occasionally, people with SAD will experience them most days of the week for many weeks in a row. If you feel you may be experiencing these symptoms most days of the week you should make an appointment with your primary care provider to discuss the problem.
The good news is that Seasonal Affective Disorder is very treatable. Many people will respond well to treatment with antidepressant medication. Often the medication is started in the fall and discontinued in the spring but some people will take medication year round. There are many types of antidepressants that work in different ways. If you try a medication and experience problems or it doesn’t work, there are others to try. Your primary care provider will make recommendations based on your individual circumstances.
Another treatment option for SAD is light therapy. This is the use of exposure to bright light of a specific intensity for a prescribed period of time each day. Normal light fixtures are not able to produce the intensity of light needed for this treatment so a special light must be purchased. Often this type of light fixture is not covered by insurance so if your provider has recommended this type of treatment you should check with your insurance regarding coverage. Light therapy is attractive to many people because it doesn’t involve a drug; however it is important to realize this therapy will involve a commitment of time each day. Most people using light therapy require 30-60 minutes of treatment every day. You should talk with your primary care provider about whether this type of time commitment will be realistic for you. Side effects of light therapy can include headache, irritability, insomnia, and fatigue. These can often be managed by changing the length of time or time of day of the light therapy.
A small number of people experience seasonal changes in mood that begin in the spring and go away in the fall and some people being treated for Major Depression will experience some seasonal variation in their symptoms. These are special circumstances that you should discuss with your primary care provider.