An introduction to combating SAD
If you’ve ever experienced drastic mood changes or a sudden sense of depression during the winter or fall months, you may be one of nearly 1 million Canadians dealing with Seasonal Affective Disorder, or SAD.
SAD is a form of temporary depression that’s related to changes in the seasons, and more specifically, to reduced exposure to natural light (i.e., sunlight). SAD tends to affect people more in the fall and winter months, especially in areas that are farther from away from the equator where there are fewer hours of sunlight during winter. The most difficult months for people suffering from SAD tend to be January and February, but most individuals report that symptoms begin to taper off with the arrival of spring and longer daylight.
Read on to discover what causes SAD, what its signs and symptoms are, and what steps you can take to combat SAD if you think you have it.
What causes SAD?
Research shows that SAD is linked to biochemical imbalances in the brain brought on by reduced exposure to sunlight in winter. As seasons change, people experience a shift in their biological clock and circadian rhythms, which can cause you to feel drained of energy and out of sync with your daily routine. Reduced sunlight can also create a drop in serotonin (a brain chemical that affects mood) and disrupt the body’s melatonin levels, which plays a role in your mood and sleep cycle.
SAD affects women more frequently than men and is more commonly diagnosed in younger adults. However, there are several factors that can increase the likelihood of experiencing SAD, including:
- Family history
- Having major depression or bipolar disorder
- Living far from the equator where sunlight hours are reduced in winter
Know the symptoms of SAD
SAD is more than just a bout of the winter blues. The symptoms can be overwhelming and even interfere with your day-to-day functioning. If the common symptoms below sound familiar, you may be experiencing some degree of SAD and should speak to your doctor about treatment.
- A feeling of depression most of the day, nearly every day
- Low interest in activities you tend to enjoy
- Trouble with sleep, especially oversleeping
- Loss of energy and increased fatigue despite more sleep hours
- Noticeable changes in appetite and/or weight
- Trouble concentrating and a feeling of agitation
- Feeling hopeless, worthy, or guilty, with thoughts of death or suicide
These symptoms are more common in the fall and winter months, and usually persist for a period longer than two weeks.
Treating SAD with Light Therapy
While those dealing with SAD can feel hopeless, the disorder can be effectively treated in several ways, including Light Therapy, medication, talk therapy, or a combination of the above. Symptoms will tend to improve on their own with the arrival of spring and longer days, but can be improved more quickly with treatment.
What is Light Therapy?
Light Therapy involves exposure to artificial light emitted by a SAD Lamp – a specially designed light box designed to mimic outdoor light and treat the symptoms of SAD. A Light Therapy session is typically conducted every morning for 20-30 minutes, and involves positioning your face at a distance of 16-24 inches from the light source. This process helps to regulate your sleep-wake cycle and causes a chemical change in the brain to improve your mood and relieve the symptoms of SAD. Approximately 60-80% of people with SAD find significant relief from Light Therapy, but it should not be conducted without consulting your doctor first.
What to look for in a SAD Lamp?
While your doctor may recommend a specific SAD Lamp, it is possible to purchase one without a clinical recommendation. If you choose to do so, be sure that the lamp:
- Is specifically made to treat SAD
- Provides an exposure of 10,000 lux (light intensity level) of light
- Emits as little UV light as possible
- Comes in a shape and/or size that fits the space in which you plan to conduct your light therapy sessions
Not sure which SAD Lamp is right for you? Our team of specialists is here to provide you with expert advice on product options and help make a recommendation that’s best suited to your needs. Find a location today to speak with an expert.
Know when to see a doctor
If you or a loved one believe that you are experiencing the symptoms of SAD, it’s important to consult your physician first to determine the best treatment options. This is especially important if your appetite or sleep patterns have drastically changed, or you have experienced thoughts of self-harm or suicide.