Thursday, November 10, 2011

Tis the Season: Seasonal Affective Disorder

If you live in the Eastern part of the U.S., you are probably experiencing the wonderful phenomena of Time Change Hangover.  I know I am.  It seems like when the clock falls back an hour in the fall, everything in my life gets thrown off a little bit -- and even more so, now that I have kids.  Kids tend to ignore the time change altogether, which makes sense since they can't tell time (this logic, however, does not make it any less irritating when they're yelling at you at 6 a.m.).  

This time of the year, I hear a lot of people talking about how the weather and light (or lack thereof) affects their mood.  I found an article at talking about things you can do to combat the "winter blues," or mild seasonal depression, which is probably what most people experience.  The suggestions are nothing earth-shattering:  exercise, light therapy, that kind of stuff.  

Unfortunately, a lot of people experience a lot more than mild seasonal depression; studies estimate that 4-6% of people suffer full-blown SAD, and 10-20% have a more mild form of the condition.  For these people who suffer from seasonal affective disorder, fall and winter mean a lot more than feeling cranky and lethargic.  I think a lot of people think they have SAD, or throw the term around somewhat carelessly, when SAD is actually a pretty severe condition. In addition to "normal" depression symptoms, like feeling hopeless and anxious, people with SAD may crave carbs, oversleep, and gain weight.  The feeling of depression is also gets progressively worse throughout the winter, only letting up when the seasons change and days become longer.

Interestingly (well, probably not for the people who have it), some people with seasonal affective disorder can get their symptoms in the summer.  These people usually have trouble sleeping, rather than oversleep.  It's more rare to have SAD in the summer, but it happens. 

Treatment for SAD can include light therapy, meds, and psychotherapy.   If you think you have full-blown seasonal affective disorder, the best thing to do is call a psychiatrist or psychologist, or -- if you have a problem getting to see one of these doctors, which you may -- see your family doctor. 

Luckily, I don't really think I have SAD -- just sort of some mild "winter blues" brought on by the fabulous Ohio fall and winter.  Having said that, everything lately is an effort, so I may go buy myself a light therapy box or light bulb for a little at-home light therapy.  If nothing else, it's probably good light to knit by.

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