Opinion: Find happiness in SAD

Christina Bucciere is a senior journalism major and a columnist for the Daily Kent Stater. Contact her at [email protected]

Christina Bucciere

As winter descends upon northeast Ohio, our world becomes substantially darker. Some people may be more negatively affected by the variation in sunlight exposure than others. Seasonal Affective Disorder, or SAD, is a mood disorder associated with depression and affects half a million people every year between September and April, peaking in December, January and February, according to Mental Health America.

October is National Depression Awareness Month, and because SAD affects so many people every year, including myself, it’s important to have an informative discussion about this disorder that is more than just the winter blues.

A person may be diagnosed with SAD after experiencing the same symptoms for three consecutive years. These symptoms may include mood changes, anxiety, too much sleep, lethargy, overeating and social problems. Three out of every four people living with SAD are women, and the main onset of SAD is between the ages of 18 and 30.

The cause of SAD is due to the light variations between seasons. As seasons change, there is a shift in the body’s circadian rhythms, which are physical, mental and behavioral changes the body experiences on a 24-hour cycle; this can cause us to feel out of sync with our traditional schedules, yielding symptoms like the ones mentioned above.

Sometimes it can be difficult to distinguish between mild mood changes and a larger problem, but it’s important to analyze whether or not the symptoms are chronically affecting your daily life. If you find these symptoms to be interfering with your ability to get through the day, there may be a problem, but it’s a problem that can be easily treated.

According to a 2011 study published in Current Pharmaceutical Design, one way of treating SAD is to take antidepressants with chronobiotic properties which means they include the sleep-related hormone melatonin that has the ability to re-align the circadian rhythms.

Another form of treatment is light-therapy. A 2006 study published in the American Journal of Psychiatry compared the popular antidepressant Prozac with light-therapy and found the two treatments to be equally effective in treating winter depression in 96 subjects. Light treatment was applied for 30 minutes a day in the morning with a fluorescent white-light box. Because the sun rises later in the early winter months, this can delay our biological clocks, making us feel sluggish and irritable. However, exposure to artificial sunlight in the morning can help reset the clock to its normal rhythm.

From personal experience, I have found that regular exercise can reduce anxiety. Because I feel doubly indolent during winter, it’s easy to over-indulge in sleep, but being active releases much-needed endorphins to give me a boost of energy and reduction of anxiety. I have also found taking a walk outside in the winter sunlight can be an effective treatment. When winter comes, it’s enticing to stay in. However, the sun is still shining, and people with SAD need as much as they can get.

Too many ignore or misdiagnose SAD for a milder problem, but this is a real disorder. Give yourself the respect of evaluating your behaviors and determine if you a person living with SAD. If you are, it’s OK. SAD people can be happy too.