The days get shorter, you seek out your fuzzy pyjamas, and break out the winter coats. It sounds like a great prelude to a 'winter wonderland' but for some people (approximately 1-10% of the North American population) the darker winter months can spell emotional disaster. (Note: it is also possible to have Seasonal Affective Disorder during summer).
People who are affected by SAD experience a general drop in mood (depression), a tendency to want to sleep more, eat more and have low energy. (SAD during the summer can include periods of exacerbated anxiety).
The symptoms of SAD mimic those of depression.
There are a few treatments available including light therapy, medication (typical anti-depressants), and
Light therapy uses a lightbox or set of LED lights in a panel that emits far more lumens than normal room lighting (2,500-10,000 lux compared to 400-600 lumens). A bright, sunny day is around 5,000-7,000 lumens.
There is evidence to suggest that the alterations of melatonin* secretion affected by the changing photoperiod (the time and amount of light in a day) affects the seasonal mood cycles of SAD. Light therapy has a positive effect on SAD by altering the secretion of melatonin, modifying the circadian-rhythm as well as sleep patterns. The most effective time of day seems to be early morning just after awakening. But your individual "dosing" schedule may differ (in the evening, for example) depending on your body's reaction to the light therapy.
If medication is something that works for you, speak with your doctor. Ask whether herbal alternatives like St. John's Wort are suitable if you are interested in alternatives (be careful when selecting herbal remedies as the strength of each "batch" is variable - it really depends on the health and harvest of the plants). And if you are interested in typical pharmaceutical treatments for depression/anxiety, let you doctor know.
Additionally, there are many ways to integrate cognitive-behavioural therapy into your life, and speaking with your doctor to ask about local programs or therapists they can recommend is a good first step. Always make sure the person you are considering as your counselor/therapist is certified (either a psychologist, psychiatrist, certified counselor, etc.). Some of these are *not* covered by insurance, so make sure with your insurance company what kind of coverage you have.
And then get back to baking those Christmas cookies!
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Other topics you might be interested in:
Vitamin D and Mental Health
Anxiety - What's it all about anyways?
Top 10 Depression Symptoms
The Nervous System
*Melatonin is a hormone in the brain that signals it’s time to sleep. Read more about sleep and anxiety here.