Do you find that you tend to feel a little down and sad once the days start getting shorter and it's already dark outside when you leave the office to head home from work? Turns out you may be experiencing seasonal affective disorder, a type of depression that usually occurs during the Fall and Winter.
According to said Debra Kissen, Ph.D., M.H.S.A., Clinical Director, Light on Anxiety Cognitive Behavioral Therapy Treatment Center in Chicago, seasonal affective disorder (SAD) is actually not that uncommon, with between 6 and 13 percent of the US population experiencing some form of the condition. Some people have more of a biological tendency to experience seasonal affective disorder, for which they might benefit from receiving therapeutic assistance. Cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT), in addition to light therapy, is effective in addressing thoughts and ineffective behaviors that may be contributing to seasonal affective disorder, Kissen said.
Light therapy uses light boxes or lamps, such as the Happy Light, to mimic daylight by providing full-spectrum or natural light without harmful UV rays, for 20-30 minute sessions. This natural light is intended to help your body relax and focus while helping to improve your mood, increase your energy levels, and boost productivity levels.
"Light therapy is one of the most effective treatments we know of for seasonal affective disorder," Kissen said. "Although research on light therapy for seasonal affective disorder is limited, it is hypothesized that light therapy positively impacts melatonin as well as serotonin levels. As natural light decreases with the seasonal change from Fall to Winter, some are more sensitive to this shift, leading to alterations in circadian rhythm, which can impact energy level, eating behaviors, and motivation."
In addition to taking advantage of methods such as light therapy, Kissen recommends staying consistently active throughout the year to help fight SAD. "You need not enter hibernation mode as Winter approaches," she said. "The more active you stay during the day and the more contact that you have with natural light, the more regulated your circadian rhythm will be, which assists in keeping seasonal affective disorder at bay."
If you find that self-treatment tactics like light therapy aren't doing much to help your feelings of sadness during the Winter months, Kissen recommends seeking the help of a healthcare provider. "Speak to your healthcare provider if symptoms such as changes in sleep, appetite, and energy level are noticeably shifting with Winter approaching," she said.
For information on finding a therapist to suit your needs, visit the Anxiety and Depression Association of America website.