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New Ulm Medical Center

Strategies, treatment options for SAD season

Do you find yourself growing depressed every year during the fall and winter when there is less daylight? You could be one of the estimated one in six Americans who has seasonal affective disorder (SAD). SAD is depression, a disease of the brain, which occurs at a specific time of the year. Experts believe that it is related to hormone regulation, body temperature and seasonal variations in sunlight. The incidence increases in northern latitudes.

SAD checklist

Do you experience some or all of these SAD symptoms at about the same time every year?

  • appetite changes, often with a craving for sweet or starchy foods
  • weight gain
  • low energy
  • low sex drive
  • fatigue, sleepiness at work or in school
  • trouble sleeping, or a tendency to oversleep
  • poor concentration
  • irritability and anxiety
  • avoiding social activities.

Doug Fox, PhD, a psychologist who treats patients in the outpatient clinic setting at New Ulm Medical Center, recommends that people with SAD symptoms start by seeing their primary care doctor. That doctor may refer you to a mental health professional after ruling out things like vitamin D deficiency, high blood sugar or thyroid problems.

“Everyone feels sad or tired at different times,” Fox said. “However, if it begins to affect your sleeping and eating habits or if it lasts more than a couple weeks, it’s time to talk to someone.”

Key factors in diagnosing SAD, Fox said, is to find out if the person meets the criteria for depression and if they feel the symptoms at the same time each year.

The value of light

For people with SAD, light therapy can be used in prescribed intensities for 30 minutes to two hours daily. Fox said he understands that light therapy works extremely well for some patients. Antidepressants and psychotherapy also can be helpful, he said. Fox said people with bipolar disorder also can have moods swings that follow the seasons. Light therapy also can help pregnant women who have depression that is connected to hormonal changes, he said.

According to Fox, to manage SAD better or prevent it, you can:

  • plan activities that you know lift your moods
  • get out daily into intense, early morning light
  • for sleep problems, stick to a sleep schedule, make sure your bedroom is dark enough and try a noise machine.