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As the air gets crisp and the leaves change color, the hours of daylight begin to dwindle. You may notice that you’re more tired, less interested in work or other activities, craving sugary sweets and comfort food. Is it an ancient instinct to hibernate or is it the beginning of a long bout of seasonal affective disorder?

Seasonal affective disorder (SAD) is a form of depression in which people that have normal mental health throughout most of the year experience depressive symptoms beginning in late fall and continuing through winter. When spring approaches, the depressive symptoms subside.

If you’re affected by the seasonal change, don’t brush it off as the “winter blues.” It’s not normal to feel down for days at a time. If you are moody, have low energy, are feeling hopeless, having difficulty concentrating and feeling depressed see your doctor.

Those at most risk for developing SAD:

  • Female—women are diagnosed more often then men, but men suffer pronounced symptoms.
  • Young—young people are more prone to feel the effects of SAD.
  • Family History—if someone in your family has SAD, you are more likely to have it as well.
  • Depression or Bipolar Disorder—if you have these conditions they may get worse in the fall or winter months.
  • Northern Location—if you live far north or south of the equator the lack of sunlight is even more pronounced.

If you suspect you have SAD make an appointment to see your doctor. Your doctor can do a physical exam and ask in-depth questions about your health.

Treatment

Light therapy—this is the first-line treatment for fall-onset SAD. It can start working in a few days or may take up to two weeks. Light therapy is effective for most people in relieving SAD symptoms.

Medication—for those with severe symptoms, treatment may include an antidepressant.

Psychotherapy—a psychotherapist can help you identify negative thoughts, learn how to manage stress and how to cope with SAD.

Lifestyle Changes

In addition to the treatment plan you have from your doctor you may also want to try:

Letting more light in—open blinds, sit close to the window in your home or in your office.

Getting outside—even when it’s cold get out for a walk every day or find a place to sit in the sun.

Exercising—whatever kind of physical activity you like to do—inside or outside—do it. It will brighten your mood.

If you need help finding a doctor that’s right for you, sign up for CarePlus. CarePlus is a free concierge healthcare service that makes taking care of your health easier and more convenient. Besides finding you the perfect doctor, the concierge team at CarePlus can help you:

  • quickly get the appointments you need
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  • obtain referrals to specialists and the pre-authorizations you may need
  • by working with your insurer to answer your insurance questions