Saturday, October 5, 2013

Seasonal Affective Disorder - By Elizabeth S. Giammarco, PhD, LCPC, NCC

Fall officially arrived several days ago. And, although this time of year brings with it the beauty of the changing colors, cooler temperatures, apple picking and pumpkins, it also brings shorter days with less sun. For those who live in New England and other northern areas of the country, this time of year also means that some suffer from a specific type of depression caused by the decrease in the duration of sunlight -- Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD). 
 SAD is a depressive disorder that, according to the Mayo Clinic, has symptoms that can include feelings of anxiety, heavy feeling in extremities, oversleeping, craving for high carbohydrate foods, loss of energy and difficulty in concentrating to name a few. The prevailing factor that is unique to SAD though is that the depression hits at the same time each year with the pattern repeating itself when the days are shorter and sunlight is a commodity. The symptoms can begin in the fall and last throughout the winter (SAD rarely presents itself in the spring and summer).

 With holidays around the corner, some folks mistakenly blame them for their feelings of sadness, depression, or fatigue, when what might be transpiring is the pattern of SAD that can be relieved when properly diagnosed. It is not necessary for anyone who suffers from SAD to go without help, nor is it a condition that should be sloughed off as not warranting a doctor’s visit because it is something that will go away as soon as the days lengthen. For those who think that they might be affected by SAD, the first line of defense is to contact a healthcare provider so that a diagnosis can be made that is based on reliable assessments. 

 Some ways to treat SAD include light therapy (phototherapy), medication, psychotherapy or a combination of any of these. Getting a dose of sunlight during the fall and winter months is a good practice for all. 

Sunshine not only has essential vitamins but also stimulate the endocrine system so that essential hormones are triggered such as those necessary for a good night sleep. 

 Natural sunlight along with phototherapy can aid with SAD. Phototherapy is a process by which a person sits near a light that is specific for the condition for a length of time each day. The lights vary in price and mimic daylight. If phototherapy is suggested by the healthcare provider, the amount of time along with the type of light would be gone over in detail. Exercise too is important as it stimulates the body’s systems and raises endorphins, which occur naturally in the body and give feelings of wellbeing.

 So if the “blues” seem to descend during the fall and winter and around the holidays, check it out with your healthcare provider. It might be a case of SAD. With proper treatment, the symptoms might go away altogether or at least be lessened. 

 In the meantime, enjoy the cool weather, sunny skies, and the pallet of color that brushes the trees, bushes, fields and hills.

 Disclosure: This column is not intended to give medical or psychiatric advice. If you are experiencing any difficulties, please call your physician, or call 911, or go to your nearest emergency room. This column is for information and entertainment only.

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