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General Information
About Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD)
Causes of SAD
Symptoms of SAD
Treating SAD
Practical Ways to Implement Treatments
Side Effects
Other Ways to Manage SAD
Tips for avoiding 'Winter Blues' aka SAD

General Information

Some students moving to a college in a climate that is very different from that of their hometown may experience unexpected emotions. While many of these feelings can be attributed to the normal stresses common in the transition to college, some women experiencing feelings of depression, lethargy and other symptoms may be affected by something called Seasonal Affective Disorder, or SAD.

With the understanding that SAD is the root of these emotions, know that there are measures you can take to start feeling like your old self once more. Since SAD is a mood disorder often associated with lack of sufficient exposure to sunlight, ways that may help alleviate symptoms often include increasing your exposure to natural and/or certain types of artificial light. Additionally, changes in sleep patterns, exercise routines, and eating habits could also help you ensure that your moods are a result of the events in your life rather than the weather outside! [ To Top ]

About Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD)
Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD) is a mood disorder that causes depression in some people during the winter months when there are less hours of sunlight. SAD may affect over 10 million Americans (almost 6% of the population) each winter,[1] and many others may experience a less severe condition sometimes referred to as "Winter Blues". Approximately 70-80% of adults that experience SAD are women.[2]

Symptoms typically begin in the fall, peak in the winter, and resolve in the spring.[3]

The diagnosis of SAD is relatively new and has drawn much attention in the past five years due to the increased prevalence of symptoms during the winter months. Many people are affected by seasonal changes; fortunately it is a condition that is often easily treatable through non-invasive methods. [ To Top ]

Causes of SAD
SAD is partially caused by changes in sunlight patterns and lengths of days, which may shift biological clocks or circadian rhythms.[4] During the late fall and winter months, people experience an extreme drop in light exposure, which is particularly important in maintaining healthy balances of the chemicals in the brain that control our mood. This is caused by the fact that days are shorter, sunlight is more diffused, and people tending to stay indoors much more during the cold winter months than any other time of the year.

Reduction in the amount of light the retina is exposed to results in imbalances in the mood chemicals, SEROTONIN and MELATONIN.[5] SEROTONIN is what makes you happy. When light reaches the retina of your eye, SEROTONIN is released. This is why being in bright sunlight often puts people in good moods. Alternately, light inhibits the production of MELATONIN levels in the brain. MELATONIN has the opposite effect on your mood; it typically will make you tired and groggy. Receiving less light exposure causes production of MELATONIN to be higher. Therefore, when your retina does not receive enough light, SEROTONIN levels drop and MELATONIN levels increase, causing you to feel tired and sad.

Different individuals who experience SAD are affected differently, and responses can range widely from mild depressive symptoms to major depressive episodes. How badly you are affected depends on your interaction between your normal daily functions and the environment.[6] [ To Top ]

Symptoms of SAD
The following symptoms indicate that you may have SAD only if they occur seasonally, escalating during the winter months and decreasing or disappearing during the summer. If you experience the following symptoms, it is advisable to seek the help of a health care provider or seek psychological attention.

Symptoms may include:

  • Excessive eating and sleeping
  • Weight gain
  • Depressive symptoms that are only apparent during late fall and winter months
  • Cravings for sugar and starch
  • Lethargy and lack of energy
  • Irritability
  • Reduced productivity
  • Social withdrawal
  • Sleep disturbance
  • Difficulty concentrating
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Treating SAD
Since there is evidence that lack of sunlight affects levels of the mood chemicals in the brain, causing depression, bright light therapy has been shown to improve mood and alleviate symptoms of SAD. Light therapy is the primary treatment recommended by the American Medical Association and the American Psychiatric Association and may involve sitting under or near specific types of artificial light for certain periods of time.

Bright light is recommended to use over dimmer, yellow light.[7] It is advised that when undergoing light therapy to use 5,000 to 10,000 lux (a measure of light intensity) and that you should be approximately 1-3 feet away from the light. Fluorescent light works as well as full spectrum light, but some people prefer full spectrum light because it mimics natural light.[8] Timing is also an important factor. It is recommended that treatment begin early in the day, and early in the year (usually late summer-early fall).[9] It is important to meet with a health care provider before beginning light therapy.

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Practical Ways to Implement Treatments
Increasing your exposure to light can be highly beneficial in improving your mood during the winter. This can be achieved artificially or naturally.

Artificial light treatment can be performed by exposure to light boxes or full-spectrum light bulbs. This treatment is very effective. You might find it easier to simply try to absorb more light through natural means. This can be accomplished by spending more time outside.

  • Instead of going to they gym, you may want to consider taking an hour walk outside.
  • Even if it is cloudy, an hour of exposure to daylight will improve symptoms of SAD.
  • In addition, try to sit near windows.
The goal is, try to get as much natural light exposure as possible. [ To Top ]
Side Effects
[11] Fortunately, there are only a few negative side effects of artificial light therapy. Additionally, light therapy is simple to administer and it requires no ingestion of chemical substances. However, you should consult a medical professional before beginning light therapy. Side effects of artificial light therapy might include:
  • Jitteriness
  • A feeling of eyestrain and headache
  • Manic feelings (this may occur in someone taking antidepressant medication)
*** Therefore, always check with a doctor or healthcare provider before treating yourself to any condition you think you may have. [ To Top ]
Other Ways to Manage SAD
Exercising often boosts metabolism and increases levels of endorphins, resulting in an improved mood. Positive effects of exercise may be particularly noticeable when you feel your mood changing. In addition, exercising regularly may help you feel better about your body, which directly affects overall self-confidence. Also, if you choose to exercise outside, you will be increasing your mood both through the physical activity, and through increased exposure to natural light.

Eating Healthy
Getting proper nutrition will help boost your energy levels, thus helping you to feel better. This is true throughout the year, but in particular, benefits of healthy eating will be marked when you are feeling low.

It is important to get a proper amount of sleep. The typical recommendation is 7.5-9 hours per night. Sleeping less than this will only increase fatigue and sleeping more will cause grogginess and increase lethargy. [ To Top ]

Tips for avoiding 'Winter Blues' aka SAD

Pay attention to the fluctuations in your moods and energy levels.
If you become aware of symptoms before they become severe, you will be able to act accordingly before things get out of hand.

Integrate active events into your life, especially during the fall and winter.
This will help keep energy levels up and decrease lethargy.

Expose yourself to bright light as much as you can.
Both natural and artificial light mood can help people with SAD improve their mood.

Exercise regularly.
Keeping a consistent schedule of physical activity will help boost your mmod.

Get help.
There is no shame in seeking treatment that will help improve your mood and outlook on life. Treatment works. [ To Top ]














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