Recognizing Seasonal Affective Disorder

From early September through the first part of April, millions of North Americans suffer from seasonal affective disorder, or SAD. While the specific cause of SAD is unknown, medical experts believe the decrease in natural daylight during the winter months triggers the disorder. Changes in the amount of daylight upset the body’s internal clock and serotonin levels, the chemicals in your brain that affect mood.

Who is at Risk of Seasonal Affective Disorder?

SAD is four times more common in women than men and the average age for developing the illness is 23 years old.

Symptoms

Symptoms of SAD include:

  • Extreme fatigue, difficulty getting up in the morning, or sleeping much more than usual
  • Loss of energy
  • Depression
  • Increased appetite, weight gain, or craving carbohydrates
  • Decreased sex drive
  • Suicidal thoughts or feelings

We stress that because it is a form of depression, people should seek help when dealing with seasonal affective disorder.

What do I need to tell my doctor?

  • Write down any symptoms you’ve had
  • Write down key personal information
  • Make a list of all medications you are taking
  • Write down questions to ask your doctor
  • Take a family member or friend along

Discuss all of your symptoms with your doctor and describe how they are affecting your life (e.g. sleeping several extra hours per day and missing work/school/appointments). Your doctor can suggest or provide appropriate therapy. Make sure to discuss all of the available treatments and medications and their benefits and side effects before making any decisions

What are the treatment options for Seasonal Affective Disorder?

Light therapy has been found to have an anti-depressant effect in 70% of people with S.A.D. Most people find relief within two weeks of beginning light therapy.

Light therapy involves exposure to bright light under specific conditions. The light can be delivered through special lights or through a light visor. Daily treatment sessions usually last from 15-30 minutes. Because homemade light fixtures have the potential to damage the eyes, it is best to purchase approved light therapy units.

Avoid self-diagnosis and self-treatment. There may be existing medical conditions that can interfere with light treatment. Consult your doctor. Be aware of eye problems or medications taken with photosensitivity as a side effect.

Finally, additional treatments such as massage, mindfulness meditation, therapeutic touch and yoga can also help to improve wellness.

What are the things I need to do to get well?
  • Stick to your treatment plan. Don’t skip psychotherapy sessions. Even if you’re
    feeling well, continue to take medication as prescribed.
  • Learn about S.A.D. Empower yourself by learning about your condition.
  • Pay attention to the warning signs. Find out what triggers your S.A.D. Make a plan so that you know what to do if your symptoms get worse. Contact your doctor or therapist if you notice any changes. Ask friends or family to watch out for warning signs.
  • Get exercise. Physical activity may help reduce the symptoms of S.A.D. Consider walking, jogging, swimming, gardening, or any other physical activity.
  • Avoid alcohol and illicit drugs. It may seem like they lessen your problems, but in the long run, they generally worsen symptoms and make S.A.D. harder to treat.
  • Get adequate sleep. This is especially important. If you’re having trouble sleeping, talk to your doctor about what you can do.
  • Maintain an adequate diet. Choose more protein and Omega 3. Eat fewer simple carbohydrates, substituting more complex carbohydrates, such as whole grains.

Getting your Spark Back

At Port Moody Health we have a range of treatments that can help balance the effects of SAD and get you back to feeling your best. Of course it all starts with an appointment to find out more about what’s affecting you and what plans may be suitable.
Our treatments include:

 

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