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Does the weather make you S.A.D.?

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Growing up we used to call it the winter blues but now it has a name: Seasonal affective disorder, or S.A.D. It has more of an impact on some, and it can be severe with a significant impact on day-to-day activities.

Most of us, me included, have felt the effect of cloudy days, like we’ve recently been through. Day after day of overcast skies can change your mood.

Seasonally it occurs more often in the winter as our days get shorter. The disorder can create depression and make life difficult to navigate. It’s not only winter, there are some who experience S.A.D. depression during the summer as well.

So how do you know if you have S.A.D.?

According to the National Library of Medicine, “Some people experience a serious mood change when the seasons change. They may sleep too much, may have little energy and may also feel depressed.”

Here are some of the symptoms of S.A.D.:

  • A loss of pleasure or interest in normal everyday activities
  • Feelings of despair and worthlessness
  • A persistent low mood
  • Lack of energy
  • Excessive sleepiness, insomnia, or sleep deprivation

Light therapy can improve your condition. Some have found that spending time under a light for 30-60 minutes is helpful.

The Mayo Clinic states that the specific cause of seasonal affective disorder remains unknown. Some factors that may come into play include:

  • Your biological clock (circadian rhythm). The reduced level of sunlight in fall and winter may cause winter-onset SAD. This decrease in sunlight may disrupt your body's internal clock and lead to feelings of depression.
  • Serotonin levels. A drop in serotonin, a brain chemical (neurotransmitter) that affects mood, might play a role in SAD. Reduced sunlight can cause a drop in serotonin that may trigger depression.
  • Melatonin levels. The change in season can disrupt the balance of the body's level of melatonin, which plays a role in sleep patterns and mood. Treatment for S.A.D. may include light therapy, medications and psychotherapy.

With light therapy, also called phototherapy, the person will sit a few feet from a light so they are exposed to bright light within the first hour of waking up each day. Light therapy mimics natural outdoor light and appears to cause a change in brain chemicals linked to mood. The Mayo Clinic notes that this can start working in a few days to a few weeks and causes few side effects.

Some other techniques that may help with S.A.D. are:

  • Relaxation techniques such as yoga or tai chi
  • Meditation
  • Music or art therapy

S.A.D. is real and if you experience it know that you are not alone.

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