Autumn! The leaves are turning, the weather is cooling, students are once again in school, hunters are in the field, fall sports are in full swing…….and some of us are starting to notice, once again, IT IS GETTING DARKER!!
For some people, the change in season, with the ebbing and flowing of sunshine, really is not a big deal. However, for some of us, it becomes all too clear that days are shorter and dimmer, and ever cloudy day is noticed as we yearn for the brightness of that wonderful summer sun! This could indicate Seasonal Affective Disorder.
I have learned, in my 34 years of practice, the importance of tuning in to how clients talk during these seasonal changes. Somewhere around 4 to 6 percent of the population is going to experience a winter depression, with perhaps 10-20 percent having some symptoms but not as extreme. Are you one of these people?
If you happen to live in the sunny south, you are unlikely to notice much. When days are close to equal length, the necessary amount of sunlight you need is much more likely to be available. But those of us in the Midwest and North who are prone to S.A.D are probably going to notice it, beginning around October and lasting until somewhere around April/May, depending on the year.
Some of the more common symptoms are:
Mood: anxiety, apathy, general discontent, loneliness, loss of interest, mood swings, or sadness
Sleep: excess sleepiness, insomnia, or sleep deprivation
Whole body: appetite changes (craving sugar/starch/carbohydrates, and sometimes an increase in caffeine consumption), fatigue
Behavioral: irritability, social isolation
Also common: depressed mood, lack of concentration, weight gain
SAD is actually one of the most carefully researched areas of psychology and psychological disorders. The definitive summary of this research is the book “Winter Blues” by Norman E. Rosenthal, MD. He summarizes 20 years of research done by the National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH).
He summarizes the treatment options that include:
1. Light Therapy. The development of affordable, lightweight but powerful LED lights have allowed the SAD sufferer much easier options. The old lights were large, heavy, cumbersome and expensive. SAD lights which provide the desired 10,000 lux of brightness, are available in stores, and on Amazon, often for under $200.
2. Medication: Antidepressants can be used to manage symptoms of SAD as well.
3. Psychotherapy and Counseling: working with a counselor, psychologist, psychotherapist can often be a helpful adjunct to other therapies. Cognitive Behavioral Therapy is, according to Dr. Rosenthal, one of the most effective strategies.
4. Managing diet and nutrition along with exercise
5. Monitoring Vitamin D levels. Often your primary care physician can test you for any Vitamin D deficiencies, and recommend a supplement if indicated.
If this sounds like what you are currently experiencing, further reading can be extremely helpful, such as Winter Blues and Dr. Rosenthal’s other materials.
Consulting with an experienced therapist can help sort out your symptoms and develop a treatment plan that will help you even out your moods, even in the dark days of winter.