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SAD Disorder - Information and Help

Updated on August 19, 2014

SAD Disorder | Symptoms of SAD

SAD stands for seasonal affective disorder. It is a type of depression, which may be related to major depression and bipolar disorder, that occurs every year when the seasons change. SAD is a serious illness brought on by the reduced amounts of sunlight. Human beings need sunlight for many things, including maintaining happy moods, so the decrease in sunshine can be very difficult for some people. Learn more about SAD disorder, how it is diagnosed and treated, and the some great tips for self management.

If you suffer from SAD, or seasonal depression disorder, you know how devastating it can be. In the dark days of winter, the lack of light can make anyone blue. Unfortunately, for some people it is even more serious.

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Who gets SAD Disorder?

SAD Disorder

When most people think of SAD Disorder, they think of the winter-onset variety, but people can suffer from it in summer as well. Scientists think the depression is triggered by changes in daylight.

SAD is a type of depression that can affect anyone, no matter where they live. Women are more affected than men. Typically, seasonal depression starts after age 20 and the risk of it lessens as a person gets older.

The winter-onset version of SAD is more common in Northern latitudes. This is due to the lack of light, and some doctors think, the cold temperature.

Seasonal depression often accompanies major depression or bipolar disorder. This is one reason you should see a doctor if you suspect you have SAD.

I've heard from other SAD sufferers and it seems like seasonal depression increases right after Christmas. Of course, it is very dark during this time, but I think there is something more. The holidays are over, the credit card bills are coming in, maybe a few pounds were added during the holidays. It just adds to the problem. The post-Christmas blues, or January blues are here.

I think it is especially careful to take good care of yourself at this time. Ask for help if you need it and be aware of your situation!

Symptoms Of Sad
Symptoms Of Sad

How Do I Know If I Have SAD Disorder?

SAD Disorder

Symptoms of Winter-Onset SAD

Have you noticed a pattern of depression that occurs in the winter, particularly if you live in a Northern climate? You could have SAD.

1 - Fatigue

2 - Weight Gain

3 - Oversleeping

4 - Increased Cravings for Carbs and Sugar

5 - Feelings of Anxiety and Restlessness

6 - Irritability and Sensitivity to Rejection

7 - Loss of Interest in Activities Normally Enjoyed

Image: Danilo Rizzuti / FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Symptoms of Summer-Onset Depression

1 - Weight Loss

2 - Decreased Appetite

3 - Difficulty Sleeping

4 - Increased Sex Drive

5 - Agitation, Quick to Anger

6 - Anxiety

If you are familiar with major depression or bipolar disorder, you have probably noticed that a lot of the symptoms of SAD overlap. This is why it is important to see a doctor if you suspect you have SAD. Sometimes mood disorders occur together so it is important to be professionally evaluated.

Seasonal Affective Disorder Info - Video on SAD Disorder

View an information video from the Cleveland Clinic on SAD. It reviews the symptoms and causes of SAD.

Highly Effective Therapy For SAD

SAD Disorder Light Therapy

Light therapy for SAD is often recommended by doctors for their patients with winter depression. By using a specially constructed light box, or light lamp, you can mimic the effects of sitting in the sunlight.

There are not very many side effects to light therapy, but they can occur. People with biploar disorder can have a manic episode if they use the light too long. There is a risk of eyestrain, fatigue, and headaches as well. Use of a light box should be monitored by a doctor. It often starts working pretty quickly, in even as little as a week.

Blu Light Box by Philips - Philips goLITE BLU Light Therapy Device

Philips goLITE BLU Light Therapy Device
Philips goLITE BLU Light Therapy Device

This Blu Light from Philips is a popular and highly recommended light therapy product for the treatment of seasonal affective disorder. It is programmable and adjustable to your desired intensity. It has a wide treatment field and a light diffuser. According to Philips this Blu Light has been clinically proven to boost your mood and energy. This is the perfect lamp for fighting SAD disorder. This light therapy product comes with a carrying case and a recharger. It is perfect for anyone that has to travel in the winter time.

The goLite reviews are overwhelmingly positive on Amazon.com The product has 4 stars and has, as of this date, 309 reviews. That means an incredible number of purchasers rated this box positively. The Blu Light comes with a 2 year warranty.

 

Light Boxes for Light Therapy - SAD Disorder

10,000 LUX Sunlight Therapy - LED Light Therapy Desk Lamp with 108 LED Lamps - UV Protected to Combat Winter Blues, Winter Associated Sleep Disorder, Fatigue & Jetlag
10,000 LUX Sunlight Therapy - LED Light Therapy Desk Lamp with 108 LED Lamps - UV Protected to Combat Winter Blues, Winter Associated Sleep Disorder, Fatigue & Jetlag

This light is perfect for your desktop or work area. It has the recommended 10,000 lux, is UV shielded, and is energy efficient. Ten year product warranty. Lights like these are recommended by doctors and have proven results reducing symptoms of SAD.

 
Bright Light Therapy Box - Alaska Northern Lights- North Star 10,000
Bright Light Therapy Box - Alaska Northern Lights- North Star 10,000

Broad spectrum light is 10,000 Lux at distance of 2 ft. No harmful UV rays. Lifetime warranty. Stand is sold separately. Recommended by doctors.

 

Medications for Seasonal Affective Disorder

Sometimes light therapy works fine on its own, and sometimes it is used in combination with antidepressants. Common antidepressants for SAD are Prozac, Wellbutrin SR, Paxil, and Effexor.

Medications may take up to a month or more to be fully effective so if you go that route make sure you give it plenty of time. Work closely with your doctor to monitor your progress, side effects, and other issues. Some doctors feel that medication is the best choice for summer-onset depression.

Use common sense when approaching your doctor about antidepressants. Bring a list of questions, ask about side effects, and let your doctor know what other therapies or medications you are taking.

Cognitive Behavior Therapy for Winter Depression

Many SAD Disorder sufferers find relief from their symptoms using cognitive behavior therapy, also called CBT. The goal of CBT for seasonal depression is to learn to manage the feelings associated with winter. Some studies have linked it to better long term success over other treatments like light therapy.

Working with a therapist, the person with seasonal depression identifies their negative attitudes about winter, and then works on changing them. Challenging a person's feelings about winter, defining them accurately, and then trying to find solutions to change those feelings are some of the basic steps.

Once the feelings and attitudes are defined and realized, the therapist can help the person make a plan on how to make small changes that can make them feel better. Even small changes can have a big impact, particularly if the clients builds on small successes and moves on to make bigger changes.

Therapy for SAD
Therapy for SAD

Self-Help For SAD Disorder

Lifestyle Changes for SAD Disorder

There are steps you can take on your own to reduce your seasonal affective disorder. Even if you use light therapy or medication, these steps are a great to do also.

Image: Ambro / FreeDigitalPhotos.net

1 - Exercise every day! Even if walking is all you do, spending time exercising releases endorphins, your brain's "feel good" chemicals. Exercise relieves stress and can help with weight management. This is especially helpful if you are struggling with appetite and weight gain.

2 - Spend time outside. Often, this can easily be combined with exercise. Even in cold climates on cloudy, overcast days there is some benefit from being outside.

3 - When indoors, try to be in a well-lit environment, preferably with natural light. Obviously, this is not always possible, especially if you work. If you have the chance, do what you can to spend time near windows or other bright spots in your home.

4 - Therapy. Traditionally, this is not considered self-help. As someone who has spent a lot of time "on the couch" I can promise you that the patient does most of the work. Therapy can help, especially if it helps you identify ways to cope with your SAD, to prepare for it, and learn to reduce overall stress.

5 - Talk about it with your family and friends. The people close to you have probably noticed your depression, and may even realize it is brought on by the change in seasons, but talk to them about it. Let them know what you need, what you are trying to do, and hope you get their support. Unfortunately, that is not guaranteed. If you ask, you have done all you can and that is a big deal. People might pleasantly surprise you though!

My Personal Experience with SAD Disorder

SAD Disorder Story

I have had problems with seasonal affective disorder for years. Until I got help for SAD I had a very difficult time coping. I struggled with other mental health issues anyway, and to add a sudden worsening of depression could be devastating.

I tend to start getting more depressed around November. I feel sad all of the time, I start craving carbs and I usually put on a few pounds. Then, everything seems too hard. Getting out of bed is hard, showering is hard, taking care of the kids is too much, etc. Fortunately, I had a doctor that diagnosed me and made suggestions for my treatment.

I have used a light box with success. Since I am bipolar, I am already on a handful of medications that help with SAD. I also use self-help techniques that are mentioned below. My doctor prescribed a set regiment of use of the light box. The light box works similar to an anti-depressant, and could induce mania in the same way a pharmaceutical anti-depressant can.

Last, but not least, I get sunshine as often as I can. The winter here is freezing, but we do occasionally get a sunny day. I try to take advantage of it whenever I can. For me, going outside, taking off my sunglasses, and lifting my face to the sun seems to work best. If it is really bright or there is snow on the ground I keep my eyes closed. I usually stand out there for fifteen minutes or so. You can still burn in the winter, so I try to be careful and wear sunscreen even in the winter.

Seasonal Affective Disorder Poll - What treatments for SAD have you used?

If you have Seasonal Affective Disorder, what has been the most effective treatment for you?

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Leave A Note! - Do you have any experience with SAD Disorder?

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    • LittleLindaPinda profile image

      Little Linda Pinda 5 years ago from Florida

      Thank you for sharing how to get help with Seasonal Affective Disorder. It can be very tough to deal with. Light Therapy helps many people.

    • profile image

      huvalbd 5 years ago

      My brother uses a light box to fend off SAD and swears by it. I should get one, especially now that I live so far north (UK) but haven't yet. An inexpensive portable one is tempting. This time of year I'm sleepy all the time.

    • profile image

      atomicgirl24 5 years ago

      Fascinating lens... I've often heard about it but never really knew too much about it. Thanks!

    • AshwinSajith LM profile image

      AshwinSajith LM 6 years ago

      Thank you for the share :) I have learnt soemthing new today

    • profile image

      anonymous 6 years ago

      I did not know about SAD. Thanks for sharing your story.

    • Gypzeerose profile image

      Rose Jones 6 years ago

      Exercise and being with friends helps me the best in fighting depression.