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Seasonal Affective Disorder

Learn how to recognize and take control of SAD

With 5 p.m. sunsets, erratic temperatures and plenty of snow and ice, winters in Chicago and other northern cities are not for the faint of heart.

And winter is far worse for people with the winter blues and seasonal affective disorder (commonly known as SAD).

 

Is it the winter blues or SAD?

The winter blues are very common, with many of us experiencing a mood shift during the colder, darker days of winter. You may find yourself feeling more lethargic and down overall. Although you may feel more gloomy than usual, the winter blues typically don't hinder your ability to enjoy life.

But if your winter blues start permeating all aspects of your life — from work to relationships — you may be facing SAD. SAD is a recurrent type of depression associated with the change in seasons. It typically starts in the fall and persists through the winter months.

SAD is more complicated than wanting to hunker down and stay in for the night. It's more than simply cursing another blizzard. And it's more than longing for those first days of spring. Basically, it's much more than the winter blues.

"SAD can be debilitating for some people," says Joyce Corsica, PhD, a clinical psychologist at Rush. "And if you're suffering from it, it's important to get help."

 

Sun power

The primary culprit of both the winter blues and SAD is the lower level of natural sunlight we are exposed to in the fall and winter. Less natural light can cause the following problems:

"All of these factors can have a direct impact on your mood," says Corsica. "And if you're having mood difficulties, other things can start to fall apart too. You may find less enjoyment in your life, your work performance may suffer and you may start struggling with your relationships. None of this happens in a vacuum."

 

Here are four ways to get a leg up on the winter blues and SAD:

 

1. Recognize the signs

The most common symptoms of the winter blues are general sadness and a lack of energy. Other symptoms of the winter blues include the following:

The hallmarks of SAD are sleep too much and overeating. Other common SAD symptoms include the following:

 

2. Don't ignore your symptoms

If you're experiencing depressive symptoms — even mild ones associated with the winter blues — it is important to talk to your primary doctor or a psychologist to discuss your options.

Often people with the winter blues or SAD first go to their primary care doctor because they aren't feeling well — they're lethargic, easily fatigued and aren't feeling like themselves. They think there is something wrong physically.

Diagnostic tests, such as a blood test to check your vitamin D levels or a complete blood count, can rule out other causes of these symptoms.

After that, your clinicians will ask you some questions to help determine if you're facing the winter blues or SAD. According to Corsica, the most telling question is: Do your symptoms interfere with your function at home, work and/or relationships?

If they do, it's time to take action.

 

3. Find a treatment that works for you

While symptoms of the winter blues and, to some extent, symptoms of SAD may dissipate in the spring, you shouldn't suffer silently, says Corsica.

The good news about both the winter blues and SAD is there are a number of evidence-based treatments that can be quite effective in alleviating your symptoms. Discuss the following treatments with your clinician:

 

4. Embrace a healthy lifestyle

Maintaining a regular schedule during the winter months can help keep your hormones in balance and regulate your mood — whether you suffer with the winter blues or SAD. Follow these tips to help manage your winter mood:

 

SAD fast facts

 

Source:  https://www.rush.edu/health-wellness/discover-health/more-just-winter-blues

 

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