This time of year, the shorter days and lack of sunlight can cause some people to feel depressed. Seasonal Affective Disorder, or SAD, affects between 10 to 20 percent of Americans, primarily younger adults and women. Although the exact cause of SAD is unknown, experts believe changes in melatonin and serotonin levels, or a disruption in the body’s internal clock may be to blame. John Stracks, MD, from Northwestern Integrative Medicine says there are ways to beat the blues caused by SAD and suggests those who experience symptoms visit their doctor before symptoms become severe.

“SAD is a type of depression that shouldn’t be ignored and can be treated,” said Stracks, who specializes in family medicine and integrative medicine. “With the proper regimen, people who experience symptoms can learn to feel content.”   People who suffer from SAD often experience some or all of the following symptoms.

• Feeling depressed, fatigued or lethargic
• Difficulty waking up in the morning and a tendency to sleep more often
• Increased appetite, especially for foods full of carbohydrates, leading to weight gain
• Loss of interest or enjoyment in activities once enjoyed or with others
• Trouble concentrating

Traditional treatments for SAD include psychotherapy, medication and therapeutic light therapy.

“Light therapy works by mimicking sunlight, which causes a biochemical change in your brain that lifts your mood,” said Stracks. “This is often used in conjunction with visits with a therapist to combat depression.”   Stracks also recommends alternative approaches. “If your symptoms are milder, the combination of good nutrition, natural supplements, exercise and relaxation or meditation can be very effective in improving your mood,” said Stracks.

While he encourages those who believe they suffer from SAD to see a doctor to determine appropriate therapies and treatment, Stracks suggests the following tips that anyone can do to keep their mood balanced this time of year.

• Sleep well - Make sure you wake up at the time same every day, including weekends. Doing so will keep your body’s internal clock in sync.

• Let the light in - Expose yourself to as much sunlight as possible by opening your blinds at home and making sure that your work space has natural or bright light.

• Control your cravings - Eat a balanced diet while limiting the amount of carbohydrates you are eating. Carbohydrates can provide a short-term energy boost but leave you feeling worse later in the day.

• Embrace an exercise routine - Exercise is not only good for your physical health, but also helps relieve the stress and anxiety that can increase the symptoms of SAD. Yoga and Pilates type classes are a good way to relax and exercise at the same time.

• Learn to manage your stress - Take time to relax each day and try to manage your stress so it doesn’t lead to depression and overeating. Make it a point to stay connected to people who are important to you, as they will help you remain calm and happy.

“Good spirits don’t have to disappear as the hours of sunlight dwindle during the winter,” added Stracks. “This time of year should be the most enjoyable, but if you find yourself feeling down, there are things you can do to help.”

Source:  Northwestern Memorial Hospital

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Thank you for this article, I truly appreciate it. I can't say I have experienced this disorder on a continual basis, however, I have one distinct memory of feeling extremely depressed upon discovering another gloomy day on a weekend that I was expecting sunshine. I have such a vivid recollection because the depressed feeling was so powerful that it really concerned me. I had never experienced that before. I have since moved to Phoenix Arizona where the sun shines over 90% of the time and I haven't experienced that SAD feeling since. I am also a practitioner of Pilates and can't agree more in it's benefits with the mind, emotion, and body. Thanks again, Jolene

This article was very insightful. Unfortunately, I am one who suffers from SAD this time of year. It's depressing even thinking about the winter coming...then it finally arrives and you feel differently. So this time of year is when I especially try to eat healthy and continue to exercise. Keeping up with the same regimen each day will certainly help make you feel better.

This article is very helpful, Hope to see more post like this.

My wife and son both suffer from SAD and unbound anxiety. During SAD episodes my wife uses a lightbox but my son just suffers through it.

I found this article whilst looking for some other information on blinds. Seasonal affective disorder is common in colder countriesand thats why its always important to let the natural light into your home as much as possible.

A great thread you have. It's very informative, i've read a lot of information in here. Hope to see more post like this.

One thing that can help but wasn't mentioned in the article is Vitamin D. Vitamin D is produced while we're in the sunshine so when it's not sunny (or we're not outside) we need to supplement our production or lack of it. There's a simple blood test that can tell if you need to take Vit. D; just ask your doctor about it. It's something I recommend to my patients during the winter months and I take it myself. It's been found to improve moods and increase energy when taken properly. Keep in mind that you can have too much of it in your system (it does not flush out like Vit. C) so talk to your doctor before starting a Vit D regime.

I am so glad that you have posted about the problem of SAD. It is a real disorder. I personally suffered from Season Affective Disorder for years without knowing what was going on. Everybody just thought I just a little "down". But, it happened every year for many years as winter approached. I just ate more and laughed less. I finally stumbled onto discussions of SAD and worked my way toward a solution. A therapeutic desktop light, increased exercise, and an occasional short vacation to a warmer brighter climate has made all the difference in the world.

I also suffer from it, the lack of sunlight is really depressing...but I bought a magic lamp. Not really, it doesn't magically solves my problem but the SAD light machine I have does help, it makes a difference. Getting up earlier, avoiding caffeine..and getting as much natural sunlight as possible. Exercising helps too. Let is be summertime again pretty please.

I, myself struggle with this year after year, but more recently I have been doing much better dealing with it. For me it seems to start right in the fall when the leaves begin to fall from the trees, and everything seems damp, chilly, and it gets dark earlier. Yuck!

During my wife SAD days, I lose weight and seem to be doing all the activities she use to have fun doing.

the article is very helpful, most of the people who are depressed still don't want to admit that they are suffering from this. you carry out some strong points it the article and i must say this will definitely gonna work, thanks for sharing such an insightful article with us, i love to come again n again for reading your other blogs.

season affective disorder is definitely a real concern even though quite a few people dont believe it exists. I suffer from it all the time, this is why I always try to stay active and healthy regardless of the season, I think the majority of problems arise when people dont changer their attitude when different seasons come in. Cheers Carl