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Identifying and Treating Seasonal Depression

SEASONSFall time is upon us!  There are so many things that make fall a great time of year.  The food, the smells, and the holidays are all things to look forward to.  However fall also marks a difficult time for many people.  Our days become shorter, which mean we do not have as many daylight hours.  For some this transition only marks the beginning of a season change, while for others it marks a significant change in their mood.
Seasonal affective disorder, also known as SAD, is a common problem that numerous people struggle with.  Many people have symptom onset in the spring time, however the majority of people notice their symptoms start in the fall and continue through the winter months.  Researchers speculate that the lack of sunlight during these months cause a change in important chemicals like melatonin and serotonin that affect our mood, appetite, and sleep.  As a result we become more likely to exhibit depression like symptoms during months where we do not receive enough sunlight to regulate these chemicals.

Seasonal affective disorder is a subset, or smaller case, of major depressive disorder.  The symptoms of major depressive disorder include:
-Feeling depressed most of the day, nearly every day
-Feeling hopeless or worthless
-Having low energy
-Losing interest in activities you once enjoyed
-Having problems with sleeping
-Experiencing changes in your appetite or weight
-Feeling sluggish or agitated
-Having difficulty concentrating
-Having frequent thoughts of death or suicide
Symptoms specific to fall/winter Seasonal Affective Disorder include:
-Tiredness or low energy
-Problems getting along with other people
-Hypersensitivity to rejection
-Heavy, “leaden” feeling in the arms or legs
-Appetite changes, especially a craving for foods high in carbohydrates
-Weight gain
If you identify with these symptoms but only during the fall and winter months there is a good chance you are struggling with SAD.  The good news is there are things you can do to help.  Many people use special lights designed to simulate the sun and give you the added “sunlight” you need during the dark months of the year.  This treatment is called phototherapy.  I have numerous people in my personal life and in my practice that report these lights make a huge difference.
The other main treatment is, you guessed it, therapy.  Coming into therapy can make a huge difference in regulating your seasonal depression.  I have
many clients that start therapy in October and stop in April.  During the spring and summer months they are able to deal with symptoms of depression and anxiety.  In the fall their symptoms worsen and they need an extra boost to get through those months.
Try several different outlets to deal with your SAD.  It may be a combination of medication, phototherapy, and psychotherapy that will help you through these months.  You are not alone.  There are so many people that struggle with this.  The important thing is to find what works best for you and do it.  This is an exciting time of year.  Find the help you need so you can stop suffering through this time, and start enjoying it!

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