How I Plan To Beat S.A.D. This Winter

Approximately 10 to 20 percent of people have a mild form of Seasonal Affective Disorder.

Here in Chicago, the winter months are dark times. It's cold and the sun seems like a bored socialite, slipping away from the party early and sleeping late. In other words, this is when S.A.D.--seasonal affective disorder--sets in. This year, I met with a doctor to see what I could do to improve my winter mood. Here's what I learned.

What Is SAD?

Seasonal Affective Disorder is depression related to seasonal changes. Approximately 10 to 20 percent of people have a mild form of S.A.D., and of the people diagnosed, three out of four of those individuals are women. There are typically two seasonal types of S.A.D., fall on-set or “winter depression,” the most commonly reported, and spring-onset or “summertime sadness."

Symptoms of fall on-set S.A.D. typically include:

  • Sleeping more than usual
  • Increased appetite (especially craving starchy foods and sweets)
  • Weight gain
  • Irritability
  • Trouble with relationships
  • Feeling heavy and weighted in the arms and legs

Doctor Recommended Treatments for S.A.D.

The following are the top treatments for S.A.D.:

  • Light therapy is primarily used to treat fall on-set S.A.D., since it simulates daylight. Light therapy comes in the form of light boxes (about 10,000 lux are recommended). Users sit about two feet from the box, spending 20-30 minutes in front of it every day, but should not look directly into them to prevent retinal damage.
  • Alternatives to light boxes include brisk walks during the day to get as much natural sunlight exposure as possible, a daily Vitamin D supplement, and adding more lamps or light fixtures to your home.
  • Doctor-prescribed anti-depressants may also work well. Be open with your doctor and what you’re experiencing, and what treatments you are comfortable with.
  • Psychotherapy, or talk therapy, can be beneficial, too. Such therapy may focus on behavioral activities, negative thinking patterns, and coping strategies.

What I’m Trying

My doctor has highly recommended light-box therapy, which I am very willing to try. However, light boxes can be pretty pricey, about $100 to $300, depending on the size and the style, so I'll have to save up for this treatment--or just move to the equator, whichever comes first.

  • Do suffer from S.A.D.?
  • Have you tried light box therapy? Has it worked for you?
  • Are you excited for a new season already like me?