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What Is Seasonal Affective Disorder and How Can I Prevent It?

Seasonal affective disorder (SAD) is a type of depression that typically develops during seasonal change, and while it can develop at any point during the year, it’s most common during late fall and winter. In Minnesota, our winters bring colder temperatures and days with less sunlight, and these changes bring real effects on mood and mental health. In today’s blog, we take a closer look at seasonal affective disorder and how you can better manage it.

Understanding Seasonal Affective Disorder

Seasonal affective disorder can affect anyone, but medical data shows that it is more common in adults, in women and in people who live further from the equator, as this can lead to longer periods of darkness during certain seasons. Although medical experts don’t know exactly what causes the condition, it’s believed that this lack of sunlight plays a role. Changes in regular light exposure during the winter months in Minnesota may alter the body’s natural biological clock, which helps with sleep patterns and circadian rhythm, leaving you feeling a bit “off.” Lack of sunlight exposure has also been linked to decreases in the body’s ability to produce serotonin, a brain chemical that can help regulate mood.

Symptoms of SAD can vary from person to person, but some of the most common include:

  • Feeling tired
  • Feeling unhappy
  • Lack of energy
  • More swings
  • Feeling anxious
  • Decreased motivation
  • Difficulty concentrating
  • Disrupted sleep

There are also some physical signs that suggest you may be battling seasonal affective disorder. Sleeping more but still feeling tired and overeating or craving carbohydrates may be signs that you may experiencing undiagnosed seasonal concerns.

Diagnosing and Treating Seasonal Affective Disorder

If you’re struggling with any of these symptoms this winter, or you just haven’t been feeling like yourself lately, connect with your women’s health provider. Because SAD isn’t something that can be diagnosed with an imaging test or bloodwork, your provider will have an open and honest conversation with you about your symptoms, lifestyle habits, such as getting outside, and perhaps conduct a mental health assessment.

Following, your healthcare provider will talk with you about some of the potential avenues for managing SAD. One of the more commonly pursued treatments for seasonal affective disorder is light therapy. Light therapy involves exposure to a special type of light. This light is brighter than indoor light but not as bright as direct sunlight. Oftentimes, it’s used in the morning as you wake up or shortly thereafter. The theory is that this exposure to sunlight at a time when your body is waking up for the day helps to reset your biological clock, kickstart serotonin production and regulate your circadian rhythm.

Other options that may be used in conjunction with light therapy include:

  • Vitamin D supplements
  • Antidepressants
  • Nutrition changes
  • A referral to mental health counseling

If you’re coping with seasonal affective disorder, you’re not alone. Millions of people deal with seasonal depression and mood disorders, and you don’t need to suffer in silence. Instead, connect with your women’s health provider and learn how you can improve your mental health during less than sunny days.

For more information, or for help with a different health issue, reach out to our team. Call 763-587-7000.