Women tend to suffer from this condition more than men. If your sleep patterns, appetite and mood change every year, usually in the winter months, you may have SAD.
There are several treatments you can try to help ease your SAD symptoms.
SAD symptoms are similar to those for other types of depression and may include any of the following:
- Feeling low and losing interest in your day to day activities
- Feeling hopeless, helplessness, worthless, or guilty
- Finding concentration levels low
- Having little energy and feeling lethargic throughout the day
- Finding it difficult to wake up in the morning and sleeping more than usual
- Eating more than usual, especially carbohydrates
- Losing interest in sex
- Feeling less sociable
- Feeling anxious.
Treatment for seasonal affective disorder (SAD)
As well as treating in a similar way to depression there are other options:
- Light therapy
- Cognitive behavioural therapy
If your symptoms are relatively mild, you could try making small changes to your lifestyle:
- Spend more time outdoors in the daylight – maybe walking at lunchtime
- Take regular exercise, preferably outside, as this can help with depression.
- Try to work as near to daylight as possible (i.e. by a window)
- Eat a healthy balanced diet.
Some people find that light therapy improves their SAD symptoms and if you’re interested in trying it, you will need to purchase a lightbox.
Light therapy exposes you to bright artificial light to compensate for the shortage of natural daylight in winter. The idea is that providing bright light encourages your body to produce certain chemicals and hormones that can lift your mood.
The light comes from a specially made lightbox. If you are keen to try light therapy, do make sure that you use a lightbox that’s been specifically designed for SAD therapy because the light in these lightboxes is much brighter than a normal light bulb. It's similar to natural daylight, but it won't harm your eyes or skin because it doesn’t include ultraviolet (UV) light.
If light therapy is of help to you use it every autumn as it could stop your symptoms appearing in the first place.
Cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT)
CBT is a talking therapy that can change how you think and what you do. It works well for depression, and may help you to manage your SAD symptoms. It may even stop your SAD symptoms coming back each year.
CBT can change your thinking and what you do. It aims to identify and challenge how you think about yourself, others and the world that we live in.
You may have CBT in a group or as a one-to-one session. Each session usually lasts around an hour and you may have one session every week for a number of weeks, depending on your individual circumstances. After each session, you may be given some homework, such as doing some exercises.
CBT sessions are also available using a computer programme or self-help books or over the telephone.
Your risk of developing SAD may be related to how your body responds to changes in daylight during the autumn and winter. Light stimulates a part of your brain called the hypothalamus. If you have SAD, a lack of light may stop your hypothalamus from working properly. Reduced daylight may delay your body clock, which affects your sleep, body temperature, hormone levels and mood. You're more likely to have SAD if you live further away from the equator. This is because the farther from the equator you are, the fewer daylight hours there are in winter.