Most of us look forward to the cool days and early evenings of the fall season. But for some, this time of year brings an unwelcome mood change called Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD). SAD is a seasonal mood disorder that produces symptoms of depression, low energy, tiredness, poor sleep, anxiousness, irritability, difficulty with concentration, and decreased activity level.
SAD is directly attributed to the amount of sunlight which can produce temporary changes in brain chemistry. Around October, people with SAD feel a sense of dread as natural patterns like fall color changes indicate that less sunlight will be available. By some estimates up to 30 percent of people in northern regions of the country have some symptoms of SAD during the winter.
Fortunately, one doesn’t have to move to the sunny southern states to get help.
The simplest thing to do is to get more sunlight light. On bright sunny days, get outside for at least 30 minutes. And, on overcast days, perhaps sit in front of something called a SAD light box that produces similar non-UV brightness as the sun. Typically, this light box is 25 times brighter than a typical indoor light and can be placed next to you on a desk. Sitting in front of a light box for 30 minutes a day can reduce or eliminate symptoms for most people.
Other effective treatments include anti-depressants from the SSRI family, often used for cases of SAD that don’t respond to just getting more light in a day. In all cases, additional help from a professional counselor can offer other interventions like cognitive behavioral therapy and anxiety reduction techniques.
SAD is now beginning to be recognized as a workplace issue. Some employers offer access to light boxes at the office. Some SAD disorders cases have been litigated as part of the America’s with Disabilities Act asking employers to avoid having affected employees work for long periods in room with no window or external light sources. People can do productive desk work while using a light box and employers recognize that happier, healthier and more productive people are a benefit.
If you feel the blues coming on because of the seasons, consider light therapy and make sure to follow-up with your physician. Early action in the fall can go a long way to prevent the winter doldrums.