Experts aren't sure what causes SAD, but think that a lack of sunlight may upset the body’s "biological clock," impacting sleep-wake patterns and other circadian rhythms. Reduced sunlight can also cause a drop in serotonin levels in the brain and trigger depression. An estimated 6% of the US population suffer from the low energy, sleep disturbances, irritability, and more that accompany their annual struggle with SAD depression.
In order to diagnose SAD, you must have symptoms of depression that occur during two consecutive winter seasons, and the symptoms must be present more often than not. Common symptoms include feeling sad or hopeless, anxiety, a loss of interest in your usual activities, weight gain, trouble concentrating, and sluggishness.
The good news is that once diagnosed, there are many effective ways to manage SAD. But as with any mental health issue, there is no one-size-fits-all treatment. Staying active, managing your stress, and creating a winter routine can all help. Other options to explore with your doctor include:
Medication – Antidepressants have proven to be effective for people with SAD. It may take several weeks to feel an improvement, and you may have to try more than one before finding something that works for you.
Psychotherapy – A psychotherapist can help you identify patterns in negative thinking and behavior that impact depression. You can learn positive ways of coping with symptoms, and institute relaxation techniques that can help you restore lost energy.
Light therapy – Phototherapy involves exposing oneself to light via a special box or lamp. This device produces similar effects to natural light, triggering chemicals in your brain that help regulate your mood.