Seasonal sadness

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Fall seems to come a bit later in South Texas, but eventually it does come — bringing cooler temperatures, falling leaves and shorter days. And it’s the last of those signs of fall that may also bring a change of mood to some people this time of year.

Seasonal affective disorder, or SAD, is a form of depression that usually strikes in the fall or winter. It usually appears first in adulthood and becomes more common as we age. Women seem to be more prone to SAD than men.

The body produces a hormone called melatonin in response to darkness, in part to help us sleep. And with less light this time of year, it’s thought that the brain’s balance of melatonin changes.

Symptoms of SAD tend to come and go roughly the same times each year, and include:

  • Increased sleep and daytime drowsiness
  • Loss of interest and pleasure in activities you usually enjoy
  • Social withdrawal and increased sensitivity to rejection
  • Irritability and anxiety
  • Feelings of guilt and hopelessness
  • Fatigue or low energy level
  • Decreased sex drive
  • Decreased ability to focus or concentrate
  • Trouble thinking clearly
  • Increased appetite, especially for sweets and carbohydrates
  • Weight gain
  • Physical problems such as headaches

See your doctor if you think you might be suffering from SAD. Treatments often include getting more sunshine, light therapy using a special lamp, psychotherapy and antidepressants.

There also are things you can try on your own to relieve symptoms.

  • Get help. If you think you may be depressed, see a healthcare provider as soon as possible.
  • Set realistic goals in light of the depression. Don’t take on too much. Break large tasks into small ones, set priorities, and do what you can as you can.
  • Try to be with other people and confide in someone. It is usually better than being alone and secretive.
  • Do things that make you feel better. Going to a movie, gardening, or taking part in religious, social, or other activities may help. Doing something nice for someone else can also help you feel better.
  • Get regular exercise.
  • Expect your mood to get better slowly, not right away. Feeling better takes time.
  • Eat healthy, well-balanced meals.
  • Stay away from alcohol and drugs. These can make depression worse.
  • Delay big decisions until the depression has lifted. Before deciding to make a significant transition—change jobs, get married or divorced—discuss it with others who know you well and have a more objective view of your situation.
  • Remember: People rarely “snap out of” a depression. But they can feel a little better day-by-day.
  • Try to be patient and focus on the positives. This may help replace the negative thinking that is part of the depression. The negative thoughts will disappear as your depression responds to treatment.
  • Let your family and friends help you.

For more information on this and other topics, visit University Health System’s Health Library.