Seasonal blues: Anxiety and irritability as the seasons change are symptoms of SAD. *iStock photo
Seasonal blues: Anxiety and irritability as the seasons change are symptoms of SAD. *iStock photo
If you experience a change in your mood and energy occurring regularly in a particular season every year, you might be having a mood disorder called Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD).

SAD is a better term than the commonly called ‘winter blues’ because in some people this disorder can occur in the summer, when the reverse of feeling blue can occur.

Normally, the people who suffer from the disorder notice a change in their level of energy and enthusiasm in the autumn. They become less socially active and tend to sleep more, especially during daytime.

They might notice changes in appetite where there might be a craving for carbohydrate foods, and an accompanying gain in weight.

Irritability and anxiety are common, too, and if the disorder is more intense, feelings of hopelessness and outright negativity and pessimism can occur.

The symptoms might increase as autumn progresses into winter, and gradually diminish and disappear altogether when spring arrives.

This cycle should occur for two consecutive years, at least, for a diagnosis of SAD to be made.

In some people, the cycle occurs from summer to winter.

Others might notice an elevation of activity and over enthusiasm, increased need for social interactions, difficulties with sleep, and loss of appetite seasonally, instead of the lowering of mood and activity.

If these changes cause distress and disability to the normal rhythm of life, consider seeking medical treatment as the recurrence of the symptoms annually can be quite disruptive.

The exact reason for this illness is not known, but lack of sunlight during the winter months is thought to effect changes in the activity of the brain chemicals producing the symptoms.

This does not explain the illness occurring in the summer months, or the reverse of symptoms manifesting themselves. A genetic predisposition is thought to be the reason in those instances.

Treatment depends upon the intensity, and once identified, upon preventative measures. Obviously, you must get the condition diagnosed by your physician and treatment recommended.

‘Light therapy’ is the proven effective treatment for SAD, and if the disorder is not severe will be sufficient. The objective is to provide the brain with exposure to light that mimics sunlight that, in turn, will affect the brain chemicals.

This is done using a light box that is designed to provide light similar to sunlight. Normal indoor lighting is not effective, and tanning beds with UV light are ineffective, as well as detrimental.

It is simply a matter of sitting near a light box and being exposed to the light without actually looking at it. The strength of the light emitted by the light box determines the duration of exposure.

The strength of light is measured by a unit called Lux, and a light box that gives 10,000 Lux will need an exposure of 30 minutes.

For the necessary strength of light to reach the body, the box will have to be placed two feet away.

This is best carried out in the mornings as sleep can be disturbed if done at night. You can get your light therapy in your home or office by placing the box on a desk while you do stationary tasks like using the computer, watching TV or using the phone.

Light therapy is best commenced at the onset of the season when the symptoms start and carried out daily till the end of the season. Stopping treatment half way will result in recurrence of the symptoms.

Apart from using the light box, exposing yourself to direct sunlight as much as possible, by walking or working outdoors is beneficial.

Keeping the house well lit and warm also enhances a sense of wellbeing.

If these measures do not give relief, a further evaluation by a physician will be necessary.