During the fall and winter months, some people experience seasonal affective disorder (SAD), also known as “winter blues.” Seasonal affective disorder is a type of depression that typically begins in October or November and continues until the end of March or April. However, some people may experience seasonal affective disorder during the spring or summer months.
Symptoms of SAD
Since seasonal affective disorder can occur in either the summer or winter months, symptoms will vary depending on the season and individual. However, general signs of SAD include:
- Daily depression
- Less interest in hobbies
- Low energy levels
- Difficulty sleeping
- Changes in appetite or weight
- Frequent sluggishness or agitation
- Feelings of worthlessness, shame, or guilt
- Recurring thoughts about death or suicide
Diagnosing Seasonal Affective Disorder
The symptoms of SAD are similar to those of bipolar disorder, mononucleosis, and hypothyroidism. To ensure an accurate diagnosis, your doctor may recommend a blood test to check thyroid hormone levels. They may also ask you when you first started to experience symptoms; individuals with SAD usually experience symptoms every year, while conditions like mononucleosis occur more frequently. Although the cause of seasonal affective disorder remains unknown, contributing factors include changes in your circadian rhythm, fluctuations in your levels of serotonin or melatonin.
Treatments for SAD
There are several types of treatment options for people with SAD, including counseling, light therapy, and antidepressant medications like fluoxetine (Prozac). Sometimes, lifestyle changes like a healthy diet, more sleep, or frequent exercise can reduce the symptoms of SAD.
Cognitive therapy can be used to identify and correct harmful thought patterns and behaviors in people with SAD. Therapists will help people learn how to manage stress and cope with the symptoms of SAD.
This type of therapy, also known as phototherapy, involves sitting near a specialized light box for a few hours each day, ideally at the beginning of the day. Light therapy is designed to mimic natural sunlight and is usually prescribed to treat SAD symptoms that occur during the winter months. The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) does not approve light boxes, but the Mayo Clinic recognizes them as a valid treatment option, only if your doctor has approved them, of course.
Medications like Wellbutrin XL or Aplenzin may relieve your SAD symptoms. Your doctor may recommend them if your symptoms are especially severe. When using medications, it may take a few weeks for the medication to lessen your symptoms noticeably. Your doctor may have you try different medicines to find one that works best for you.
You may be able to reduce your symptoms by brightening your environment and getting regular exercise. Getting adequate rest and making time to be with friends and family may also help you reduce or prevent symptoms of SAD.
If you are experiencing symptoms of seasonal affective disorder or would like general medical advice, schedule your eVisit today. We’d love to answer your questions or prescribe any necessary medications.