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Seasonal Affective Disorder

Everyone feels down or sluggish sometimes. Some people may even get the “winter blues” because it’s often too chilly to go outside and they may feel restless and bored.

However, some people experience a more serious mood change when the cold weather rolls around. They may feel like they can’t get out of bed in the morning, have no energy, and have an increased appetite, especially for starches and sweets. They may also feel depressed and show no interest in their normal activities or in talking to their friends. Sometimes, these symptoms are quite severe. This condition is known as seasonal affective disorder (SAD)—it’s “seasonal” because the mood change happens during a certain season, and it’s “affective,” or emotional, because it causes emotional changes in a person.

A less common version of SAD can occur in the summer, but SAD usually strikes in the winter months and in colder climates. In fact, you’re about seven times more likely to suffer from SAD if you live in New Hampshire than if you live in Florida. You’re also more likely to suffer from SAD if you’re female and over the age of 20, although SAD is sometimes seen in kids and adolescents.

What causes SAD? Some experts think it’s a lack of sunlight during the winter months, when the days are shorter and daylight is scarce. They believe that a lack of sunlight increases the body’s production of a chemical called melatonin, which helps regulate sleep and can cause symptoms of depression.

A popular treatment for SAD is called “light therapy,” in which the person exposes herself to a special type of light for an amount of time each day, sometimes using a light visor or a light box provided by a doctor. Other treatments include medication, changes in diet, learning new ways to manage stress, or sometimes a vacation to a sunny, warm climate during the cold months.

Remember, for most people, emotional ups and downs are normal at any time of year and are not necessarily a cause for concern. However, it’s important to talk to a trusted grownup if you think you may be experiencing the severe symptoms of SAD. SAD is not just “all in your imagination” and, with a doctor’s help, there are ways that you can feel better.

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The Mayo Clinic: Seasonal Affective Disorder

Center for Mental Health Services

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Seasonal Affective Disorder