With the polar vortex upon us earlier than ever this year, it's important to remember that although most people may feel a little down during the winter months, a number of individuals actually suffer from Seasonal Affective Disorder, often referred to as SAD. SAD is a form of depression that occurs seasonally, typically with symptoms beginning in the fall, and abating in the spring.
Symptoms are similar to those of major depression disorder, and include low energy, lack of interest in doing things, increased sleep, increased appetite, unhappiness, and feelings of hopelessness. SAD is a problem for many Americans living in northern latitudes, where sunlight is scarce during the winter months, and it is often too cold to go outside even when the sun is out.
Although the cause of SAD is not entirely known, one theory is that because darkness triggers our pineal glands (a tiny gland in our brains) to secrete melatonin, a hormone which produces feelings of sleepiness, darker mornings may mean our brains are producing too much melatonin, or not turning off melatonin production at the right time. Even though the clock on your wall may say 7 a.m., it is still dark outside, so your eyes are telling your brain not to bother waking up.
Often, treatment for SAD is similar to that for other depressive disorders. One unique treatment that seems to offer some help to SAD sufferers is light therapy. Done with a specially designed light box, light therapy is often done by placing a light box a foot or so from your face for the first 30-45 minutes after you wake up. In essence, it is a way of simulating that refreshing early morning summer sunshine that we Northerners miss during the long winter months.
**It is important to remember that tanning salons and other non-specialized light sources are not the same thing as a light box, and may be harmful to your health if not used properly.
To determine whether or not you are suffering from SAD, or another mental health condition, and to learn more about how to safely use lightbox therapy, please contact our office.