What is seasonal affective disorder?

Eating and sleeping more than usual... Feeling depressed... Seasonal affective disorder could be to blame. ❄️

The winter blues affect about 10 million Americans

Seasonal Affective Disorder, or SAD, is a type of depression related to less daylight during fall and winter months. Dr. Norman Rosenthal first identified the condition in the 1980s. “People with seasonal affective disorder, every year when the days get shortened off, feel a very classic set of symptoms… They have a hard time waking up. They have less energy. They need more sleep. They eat more, especially sweets and starches. They can gain weight. They withdraw from friends and family… In serious cases, people lose their job because they're underperforming, or they lose their relationship because they can't be there for their partner. I've had people who've been suicidal,” he explains to Brut.

How to treat SAD

Dr. Rosenthal says light plays a major role in both the cause and treatment of SAD. “Something's going on with the brain chemistry… One strong contender is the neurotransmitter serotonin, because it has been found to decrease in concentration during the winter months… When there is not enough light coming in the production or transmission of serotonin declines. And that could be causing a lot of the symptoms,” he admits. Dr. Rosenthal continues, “For most people, the easiest, most effective, and quickest way is to get a special fixture or lightbox that gives you enough light that can make a difference… All this is based on a lot of research that shows that the supplemental lights can be very potent as an antidepressant.”

Exercise can boost mood

Another way to treat seasonal depression is by staying active. “Walking on bright days is one way of combining aerobic exercise with bright lights… If it's a really nasty day out there, you can sit in front of an exercycle, or use a treadmill, or other exercise equipment, in front of your bright lights. And that can be a potent combination,” Dr. Rosenthal discloses.

Medication might also be needed

But severe cases may require medication. “Remember, you've got light, stress management, exercise, be social. But if all of these things aren't working, do get to a doctor because medications plus medical care can supplement all these good things that you're doing for yourself,” he elaborates.