Seasonal Affective Disorder

Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD) is a type of depression experienced by people during the beginning of the fall months through winter. 

Seasonal Affective Disorder

The exact cause of Seasonal Affective Disorder is unknown; however, according to the American Psychiatric Association, “SAD has been linked to a biochemical imbalance in the brain prompted by shorter daylight hours and less sunlight in winter.” Decreased levels of sunlight have been found to disrupt melatonin (a hormone that regulates our sleep-wake cycle) and serotonin (a chemical that regulates mood) levels in the body.

Those affected by the disorder may find that they have sleep issues, difficulty concentrating, and increased cravings for unhealthy foods that can contribute to weight gain and low energy, as well as other symptoms associated with depression such as feelings of hopelessness or thoughts about suicide.

Treatment for SAD may include phototherapy, medications and psychotherapy. Your doctor may also recommend lifestyle changes such as increasing your exposure to natural light.  This can be achieved by doing more outdoor activities such as walking, jogging and hiking.  Increasing physical activity is also strongly encouraged as this has been found time and time again, to reduce levels of stress and anxiety which improve symptoms of SAD. In addition to improving your mood, physical activity can help to control or lose weight.  

Paying attention to your eating habits is very important. Those with SAD are at an increased risk for emotional eating and making poor dietary choices. Eating a healthy, well-balanced diet can help you to manage your weight and sustain energy. Avoiding alcohol is highly recommended. Alcohol acts as a depressant, which in excess can worsen depressive symptoms

Practicing meditation or yoga  as well as receiving acupuncture or massage therapy have been found to decrease anxiety and stress levels, improving mental and physical health overall. It is also important to surround yourself with friends and family, this allows for less alone time and strong social support.

If the symptoms of SAD persist, consider cognitive psychotherapy and or SSRI (selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors) treatment to relieve depressive symptoms and address underlying difficulties.

If you are struggling with SAD, you do not need to feel alone. It is estimated that 10-20% of Americans suffer from SAD. It is important to seek help if you are experiencing issues at work or school, substance abuse or other signs of mental health disorders, especially suicidal thoughts.

To speak with or see a Family Medicine doctor about Seasonal Affective Disorder, please call  718- 206-6942

Marwa Eldik M.D.

All content of this newsletter is intended for general information purposes only and is not intended or implied to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. Please consult a medical professional before adopting any of the suggestions on this page. You must never disregard professional medical advice or delay seeking medical treatment based upon any content of this newsletter. PROMPTLY CONSULT YOUR PHYSICIAN OR CALL 911 IF YOU BELIEVE YOU HAVE A MEDICAL EMERGENCY.

Is It The Winter Blues or Something More?

Understandably, the winter season can make you feel glum. It is the coldest time of year and the hours of sunlight are much shorter.  These factors can contribute to a dip in your mood or a lack of energy which you may attribute to the ‘winter blues.’

According to the National Institutes of Health ((NIH),   the winter blues is “fairly common and it’s more mild than serious. It usually clears up on its own in a fairly short amount of time.” However, if feelings such as sadness, loss of interest in activities you once enjoyed and lethargy persist, they may be signs of a more serious condition known as seasonal affective disorder (SAD).

Seasonal affective disorder is a form of depression that is related to the changes of the seasons. While the exact cause of SAD is unknown, it has been found that factors such as the reduction in sunlight during the winter and reduced levels of serotonin (the brain chemical that affects mood) are contributors.

Some people are more at risk for SAD than others; women, people who live far from the equator, people between the ages of 15 and 55 and those with a family history of seasonal affective disorder have a higher chance of occurrence.

Signs and symptoms of SAD may appear in late fall, early winter and subside during the spring or summer; they can include:

  • Feeling depressed most of the day and nearly every day
  • Sleeping excessively
  • Craving more carbohydrates than usual
  • Gaining weight
  • Having difficulty concentrating
  • Feeling apathetic towards things that were once enjoyable

If these symptoms make it difficult to function normally in your life, it is highly advised that you seek the help of a trained mental health practitioner.

Diagnosing SAD can be difficult due to similarities shared with other forms of depression and mental health conditions. However, to help rule out possible underlying health problems, your doctor will conduct a thorough evaluation which generally includes lab tests, physical examinations and psychological assessments to determine a conclusion.

Treatment for seasonal affective disorder may include a combination of light therapy, medication and counseling.

To schedule an appointment with a mental health professional at Jamaica Hospital Medical Center, please call 718-206-5575.

All content of this newsletter is intended for general information purposes only and is not intended or implied to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. Please consult a medical professional before adopting any of the suggestions on this page. You must never disregard professional medical advice or delay seeking medical treatment based upon any content of this newsletter. PROMPTLY CONSULT YOUR PHYSICIAN OR CALL 911 IF YOU BELIEVE YOU HAVE A MEDICAL EMERGENCY.