Shorter days, darker mood: How to cope with the blues

By Linda Lombroso, THE JOURNAL NEWS

Seasonal Affective Disorder, or SAD, is a form of depression that hits during fall and winter, when the days are shorter. If symptoms linger and grow more serious, it’s time to seek professional help.

Do you get down in the dumps every fall and winter?

For some people, the reason may be SAD, or Seasonal Affective Disorder, a type of depression that is related to changes in the season.

Symptoms of SAD are similar to some of those experienced by depressed people in general: changes in sleep and appetite, weight gain or loss, fatigue, reduced energy, difficulty concentrating, lack of motivation, irritability and avoidance of social situations, says psychologist Christine Ziegler, director of the Hudson Valley Center for Cognitive Therapy in Upper Nyack.

For SAD, symptoms are present during the season you’re depressed, and lessen or disappear when the season is over. If you’ve had at least two such episodes in the past two years, you may meet the criteria for SAD, says Ziegler, who offers the following suggestions:

“As the weather turns colder and the days get shorter, it’s completely normal to have some days when you feel down or have lower energy,” she says. “In order to facilitate the transition to the winter months, it is a good idea to make a point to continue spending time outside in the natural sunlight. It is also helpful to regularly schedule social activities. Exercise and physical activity are consistently shown to improve mood, so try to think about how you can adjust your exercise routine to the colder months. You might consider joining a gym, using workout videos, or finding a walking partner who might motivate you to venture outside to exercise.”

When is it more serious?

“If you feel down for weeks at a time, and you can’t seem to get motivated to do activities you normally enjoy, it may be time to seek professional help,” she says. “This is particularly important if your everyday functioning has become impaired, you are withdrawing from loved ones, your sleep patterns and appetite have changed, you feel hopeless, or think about suicide or death.”

Is there any treatment for SAD that works?

“The good news is that effective treatment is available,” she says. “In addition to light therapy and antidepressants, a type of psychotherapy known as cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) has been shown to be particularly successful in treating depression and SAD. CBT provides practical strategies which help people challenge and modify negative thoughts and incorporate pleasurable activities into their lives in order to more effectively cope with the wintertime.”