TWIN FALLS – The sun isn’t up as long, and it’s getting colder. Unfortunately, it is a time for SAD.
SAD is short for Seasonal Affective Disorder, when some people have difficulty dealing with the change of seasons, especially fall and winter.
It can play havoc with a body’s rhythm, creating chemical imbalances in the brain. Decreased daylight hours can also mean your body produces more melatonin, which can cause sleepiness.
“We see it quite frequently during the winter months – kind of like cabin fever, then there isn’t as much light outside and weather gets cold,” said Colleen Fullmer, a licensed clinical professional counselor at Crosspointe Family Services in Twin Falls.
SAD is not a separate disorder, but a type of major depression disorder.
Symptoms include feeling depressed for most of the day, losing interest in activities, feeling sluggish, agitated and having no energy.
Other symptoms include weight loss, social withdrawal, “kind of like cocooning or hibernating,” Fuller said. “One thing that we see that is specific to SAD is oversleeping, or hypersomnia which is just like going to sleep when it is dark and the urge of wanting to sleep all the time.”
But treatments are available.
“I’ve been told to take up an outdoor activity during winter,” said Rebecca Mclaughlin, of Twin Falls, who is among the people who have the condition. “Since I love walking, I make it a more common activity during winter, so I can get more sunlight.”
Light therapy is also effective, Fullmer said.
McLaughlin gets her light therapy in the form of Christmas lights, which put her in a more cheerful mood.
“I don’t think it’s the same as having a light box, but they remind me of old Christmas memories from my childhood.”
Gail Massie, from Gooding, remembers a job she had when she would go to work in the dark and come home in the dark.
“I know that I would get very irritable,” Massie said.
It might not have been the best choice, she admits, but she would occasionally go to a tanning salon to feel better.
Doctors can also prescribe UV light therapy for someone suffering from the condition.
Another helpful idea is to eat more healthily, and to take Vitamin D. Less exposure to the sun can lead to a Vitamin D deficiency.
Antidepressants can be prescribed if natural remedies don’t work as well as hoped, Fuller said. Some people with borderline depression symptoms start taking antidepressants during fall and winter.
“They help them get over the hump, so to speak,” Fuller said.
It can be tough getting through the winter months, Massie said, and the change from Daylight Savings Time “just adds fuel to the fire.”
Jeanny Gay, of Twin Falls, said she survives wintertime blues by seeing the season as a time of relaxation, to stay home and have some down time.
“The quietness and serenity of just sitting and watching the snow fall is beyond relaxing,” Gay said. Hot baths also help.
If someone is struggling with SAD, Fullmer encourages them to seek assistance from mental health counselors.
“We don’t encourage people to wait it out, if they need help,” she said.