Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD) is a type of depression that typically affects people during the fall, winter, and early spring months of the year. This is a condition which, because it occurs on a fairly predictable schedule, can be reasonably managed and possibly even prevented with the appropriate measures implemented at certain times of the year. Cultivating a nuanced awareness of yourself and sticking to a proactive treatment plan are both key to managing symptoms and preventing them from affecting your life.

What are some signs of SAD?

SAD is a type of depression that is identified by its seasonal, recurrent nature. Signs and symptoms of SAD are akin to those of depression, including feeling depressed nearly every day for most of the day, experiencing appetite or weight changes, experiencing sleep problems, feelings of sluggishness or agitation, loss of interest in activities usually pleasurable, feelings of low energy, feeling worthless or hopeless, experiencing difficulty concentrating, and frequent thoughts of suicide or death.

Winter-pattern SAD, which flares up during the winter season, can also present with additional symptoms such as weight gain, overeating, craving carbohydrates, social withdrawal or feelings of “hibernation,” and oversleeping AKA hypersomnia.

Summer-pattern SAD, which is worst during the summer season, is likely to bring with it additional symptoms such as restlessness, agitation, anxiety, poor appetite, weight loss, trouble sleeping AKA insomnia, and episodes of violent behavior.

What are some treatment options to help manage SAD?

Treatment options include psychotherapy, light therapy, vitamin D therapy, and antidepressant medication therapy.

Psychotherapy, also known as talk therapy, is usually delivered in the form of Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT), more specifically as CBT-SAD, which is a form of CBT that has been tailored to help alleviate the effects of SAD. This form of therapy typically involves twice-weekly sessions of group therapy conducted over a six-week period, in which participants are guided to replace negative thoughts about whichever season triggers their SAD symptoms with positive thoughts about that season. Participants usually also work through the process of behavioral activation, in which they learn to identify and schedule positive indoor or outdoor activities to help combat any SAD-induced loss of interest in activities that are usually pleasurable for them.

Light therapy utilizes high-powered light (10,000 lux) to help alleviate symptoms of winter-pattern SAD. People engaged in light therapy typically sit in front of a light box which emits high-powered light for up to 30-45 minutes a day, usually first thing in the morning. This intense form of light exposure has been used since the 1980’s to help make up for diminished natural sunlight during winter months.

Vitamin D and antidepressant medication therapy are two additional ways that SAD may be treated. These should be discussed with your health professional to find which specific forms of these types of therapy would be right for you.

If you feel you may be struggling with symptoms of SAD, reach out to Chenal Family Therapy to schedule an appointment.