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Your Health

The truth about Seasonal Affective Disorder

Nov 22 2016
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As the winter months set in and there’s a less sunlight throughout the day, some people may have less energy, problems sleeping or feel depressed. This is known as seasonal affective disorder (SAD).

People who experience major depression during specific seasons for at least two years are typically diagnosed with seasonal affective disorder, according to the National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH).

“It’s called a disorder when people are not able to function well. People may get more depressed; they may not feel well; they may crave carbohydrates and overeat; or they may feel like oversleeping more,” said Gabriela Cora, a medical director for Aetna Behavioral Health. “You need to see it for a couple of years before it becomes an issue.”

What is SAD?

There’s no definitive cause behind SAD, but the NIMH states research shows a variety of factors can contribute to symptoms, including lack of sunlight.

Symptoms of SAD generally subside by spring and summer time

While some people may feel depressed during the colder, darker winter months, Cora said the opposite effect can occur during the spring and summer months.

“During the summer time, they feel more energized,” she said. “When the light changes, they may feel over energized and sleep very little.”

Symptoms of SAD generally subside during the spring and summer months, Cora said. She noted that if a person’s depression is severe, it can be diagnosed as major depression disorder.

“This is when the degree of severity is severe enough that you feel very depressed or really unable to function completely,” Cora said.

What can you do?

Focus on taking a more holistic approach to address SAD by looking to the four pillars of health

There are numerous products available, such as sunlight bulbs and light therapy boxes, to help combat against SAD.

Cora advised not to focus solely on trying to get additional light exposure. She emphasized the importance of taking a more holistic approach to addressing SAD.

If a person is starting to feel depressed during the winter, Cora said checking the four pillars of health can help make someone feel better.

“There are four pillars of health: nutrition, sleep, exercise and relaxation,” Cora said. “Light does become a catalyst for a person not feeling as well, but the lack of energy, lack of movement, not eating and not sleeping well – that combination makes it worse.”