Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD)

Seasonal Affective Disorder (or SAD, as it is more commonly known) is a winter depression that affects some half a million people, the majority of which are women. Symptoms of seasonal affective disorder can have debilitating effects, leading to fatigue and depression. While new treatments for seasonal affective disorder can provide relief to moms suffering from SAD, such as light therapy and anti-depressants, seasonal affective disorder syndrome can still have a major impact on your health, and as a result, on your family and children.

What is SAD?

SAD is a form of depression that typically affects individuals from September to April, especially during December, January and February.

SAD is more common amongst women than men, affecting 70 to 80% of women in the United States. It is most common in northern geographic regions of the nation.

The average onset of this disorder usually occurs between 18 and 30 years of age, although it can occur at any age. The risk of developing seasonal affective disorder increases with age.

Although there is as of yet no confirmed cause of SAD, experts believe it is caused by a biological response to a lack of sunlight.

Symptoms of SAD

Seasonal affective disorder symptoms include:

  • sleep problems. An individual with SAD often oversleeps and has the tendency to wake up during the early morning hours
  • mood changes. This includes irritability and sadness
  • depression. Depression and seasonal affective disorder go hand in hand. Symptoms of depression can include low self-esteem and apathy
  • decreased libido
  • fatigue
  • anxiety
  • overeating. Individuals with seasonal affective disorder will especially crave sweet foods and starchy foods (carbohydrates)
  • weight gain

In addition, a person suffering from the above symptoms of seasonal affective disorder will also be more prone to infections, due to a weakened immune system that often accompanies the disorder.

Seasonal Affective Disorder Treatments

A variety of SAD treatments can be beneficial in beating seasonal affective disorder.

  • light therapy. Using seasonal affective disorder lights or seasonal affective disorder lamps is an effective way to reduce SAD symptoms. Your doctor will recommend exposure to special lights that are 10 times as strong as normal domestic lights for a period of 1 to 2 hours on average. By sitting in front of a seasonal disorder light box for the prescribed amount of time each day, the effects of SAD symptoms on your life can be reduced. However, tanning beds are not advised in the treatment of seasonal affective disorder, as they contain harmful UV rays.
  • antidepressants. A type of antidepressant drugs, known as selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRI) can be affective in treating SAD. Such drugs include fluxetine (Prozac), setraline (Lustral) and paroxeline (Seroxat). However, because these drugs have been associated with serious risks, such as an increased risk for suicide, you should always consult with your doctor about whether the benefits of taking antidepressants to treat seasonal affective disorder outweigh the risks
  • counseling or talk therapy. Seeking professional help can alleviate stress, anxiety and depression
  • vitamin supplements. Because lack of exposure to sunlight can cause SAD, vitamin D supplements can help alleviate symptoms of seasonal affective disorder. Vitamin B complex supplements are also believed to be effective in treating SAD

Moms with SAD

Because SAD impairs your health, it can affect your children and home life. It is crucial to take of your health so that you can ensure your own happiness, as well as that of your family.

Some tips on dealing with SAD as a mom include:

  • be patient. Seasonal affective disorder treatments aren’t cures, but they can improve your symptoms greatly over time. Take things day to day and don’t feel frustrated or guilty if you don’t notice results right away
  • exercise as much as possible, in particular, outdoor exercise is beneficial in beating seasonal affective disorder. Plan outdoor winter activities with your kids and family such as skating or skiing
  • spend time with your family and friends. While spending some time alone to meditate, practice yoga or simply just clear your head can be beneficial when dealing with SAD, it’s important not to isolate yourself. Take the kids tobogganing or catch up with an old friend
  • talk to your children. If you feel that they are mature enough, talk to your children about SAD in simple terms. You may choose to tell them things like, Mommy isn’t sad, she just has a condition that makes her feel extra sleepy in the winter. This will prevent feelings of guilt, confusion and resentment in your children and will help make your home as happy and stress-free as possible.