For some of us, it happens every October — the change in the weather precipitates a change in our emotions; the darkness descends earlier and earlier, and lingers longer; the chill in the air penetrates into our very souls.
Seasonal Affective Disorder (or SAD, as it’s known, one of the most apropos acronyms in the history of the English language) affects over 10 million Americans; people who have pre-existing depressive disorders are 10 to 25 percent more likely to have it.
The exact causes of SAD are unknown, but experts believe that the lack of natural light in winter months contributes to the condition. Why exactly that has such a profound effect on mood is unclear, but the resultant changes in melatonin production might have an impact. Genetics might also exert an influence. Finally we can’t discount the social factor – in the winter we’re outside less, and so we’re more isolated, which can contribute to depression.
SAD usually starts in September or October and peaks around now. Because even though the days are getting longer, they’re getting colder, too. Much like Puxatawney Phil, the idea of several more months of winter sends us scurrying toward the dark.
At Rappore we see many patients with SAD — the course of treatment typically involves a mixture of practical changes, traditional psychotherapy, and sometimes, in treatment-resistant cases, prescription drugs.
Let There Be Light
You ever hear that expression that sunlight is the best medicine? In the case of season depression, it really is. Research indicates that one of the driving factors behind SAD is a lack of sunshine, not only because the days are so much shorter in the winter, but also because we spend so much more time indoors, away from natural light.
That’s why one of the first things we recommend is that patients invest in a light box that mimics sunshine, a technique that has proven so effective in combating symptoms of SAD that it is being used to treat other mental health disorders. Experts recommend sitting in front of the light box for 20-30 minutes, ideally within the first hour after you wake up.
There are many effective options for purchase at Amazon. Make sure though you’re buying a box designed to treat SAD — there are light boxes for certain skin disorders, too, that typically emit UV light, which can hurt your eyes if you’re not careful.
The Dawn of a New Era in SAD Treatment
Another technique experts recommend is the use of a dawn simulator — a specially designed light box that mimics the rising of the sun. Though the primary function of a dawn simulator is as an alternative alarm clock — one that wakes you up gently, and naturally, without blasting noise into your ear and making your heart leap — it can have a palliative effect on SAD, too. Some even produce full-spectrum light, just like the sun does.
The combination of being inside more, colder weather, and less sunlight can have a profoundly isolating effect — which greatly contributes to SAD. Add to this the more solitary — and sedentary — lifestyles that many of us are leading as we adjust to a post-pandemic lifestyle That’s why making sure to keep a busy social schedule is that much more important during the winter and fall months.
Even taking all these steps, there’s still a possibility that you remain prone to SAD. That’s why we also recommend building Rappore with one of our incredible therapists. Not only can therapy help you with SAD, but it can also help you with other kinds of affective disorders — and with depression in general. They can also help prescribe therapeutic drugs, if need be.