SAD is a disorder where one feels overwhelming depression recurring every year duing the winter and occasionally during the summer.
Symptoms of SAD can include :
- Sadness (accompanied by feelings of hopelessness, guilt, and sometimes suicidal thoughts)
- weight gain (often due to increased appetite and craving for simple carbohydrates and sweets)
- joint stiffness
- lack of interest in sex
- lack of concentration and motivation
- increased desire to sleep (difficulty waking up in the morning and daytime drowsiness)
- drinking more alcohol than usual
- drinking more coffee and tea than usual
- social withdrawal
- blaming others on circumstances
- more prone to infections such as colds and flu
- keener sense of smell, and changes in taste
In milder cases (called the winter blues), symptoms mentioned may not be experienced but the person’s energy simply drops.
Symptoms in Children and Teenagers include :
- tantrums and crying
- reduced performance at school
- loss of interest in usual activities such as sports or hobbies
- not wanting to see friends
- sleep problems at night, and drowsiness by day
- unusual craving for junk foods and sweets
How Common is SAD?
SAD affects one in twenty people. It often starts between the ages of twenty and forty and affects women more than men (an approximate ratio of three to one).
Light Therapy for SAD
Light Therapy is the most established treatment for SAD. It consists of looking at special broad-spectrum bright lights on a daily basis. The treatment is believed to work by reducing or stopping the production of melatonin and stimulating the brain to make more serotonin.
Helpful Light Therapy Tips
- set up your light box in a convenient place at home or at work or both
- sit in front of the light box for between 30 to 60 minutes each day
- try to get as much of your light therapy as early in the morning as possible
- ensure that the correct amount of light falls on your eyes
- repeat this procedure daily through the dark season
What is felt when starting Light Therapy
- the first sensations are a sense of calm and increased energy
- all the symptoms of SAD can disappear in a matter of days, however with some people, symptoms can be eliminated gradually over a number of weeks.
Safety and Side Effects
One should always check with their doctor before starting light therapy, especially if one has any of the following conditions:
- an eye disorder, such as glaucoma, cataracts, or detached retina
- depression that lasts the entire year
- a rash, high temperature, or any other symptoms of illness, in which case one might have an infection
- taking medication that makes you photosensitive
Other important factors to consider when dealing with SAD:
- diet and exercise
NOTE: for true SAD cases, taking responsibility for your life and setting up yourself with a healthy diet and regular exercise and social activities, along with using light therapy, can often eliminate the need to seek any other type of help.
A recent study cited in the American Journal of Psychiatry concludes that Light Therapy is just as effective as anti-depressants in reducing the symptoms of SAD. Click here for study summary.