If you anticipate the winter months with a sense of dread, foreboding and a very bear-like desire to curl up and hibernate until spring, you may be one of the estimated 10 million Americans who struggle with Seasonal Affective Disorder, appropriately known as SAD.
What is Seasonal Affective Disorder?
For some people, Seasonal Affective Disorder is a mild depression that comes on as the days grow shorter and darker. However, for many, it’s a serious disorder accompanied by a variety of unpleasant symptoms that may include severe depression, social withdrawal, crying spells, insomnia or excessive sleeping, body aches, joint pain, irritability, decreased activity level, loss of sex drive, lack of concentration or “brain fog” and weight gain caused by intense cravings for carbohydrates. For most SAD sufferers, symptoms peak in January and February.
Seasonal Affective Disorder can affect anybody at any stage in life, but the symptoms, which affect women more often than men, tend to become apparent in the late teens or early twenties.
The disorder is more common in northern climates, with the exception of climates with regular snow. Although it is less common, some people experience symptoms in summer, particularly when the weather is hot and humid.
Most animals are affected by the changing seasons, and researchers think that some humans are affected in much the same way when lack of sunlight triggers a biochemical imbalance in the brain. Additionally, darkness may cause the brain to produce higher levels of melatonin, a hormone associated with depression.
Coping with Seasonal Affective Disorder
If you think you have SAD, the first step is a visit to a health care provider to rule out physical problems such as hypoglycemia or hypothyroidism, or mental health conditions like bipolar disorder.
Tip 1. Light Therapy
Often, light therapy is the treatment of choice. This therapy involves daily exposure to very bright light, usually in the morning. The light usually comes from fluorescent light boxes or light visors. Although this therapy has been highly successful, it isn’t a miracle cure. According to Harvard Medical School, light therapy provides complete relief for only 50 to 80 percent of people.
Tip 2. Exercise
Although it seems like a simple “fix,” exercise is proven to ease symptoms of depression. Once the disorder is confirmed, you may notice considerable relief by simple changes such as moving your desk near a window or a 20-minute daily walk in the great outdoors.
Tip 3. Omega-3's and Low Sugar Diet
Similarly, a healthy diet that avoids sugary or starchy foods helps to keep carb cravings in check. Studies indicate that Omega-3 fatty acids are powerful mood regulators. Foods rich in this healthy fat include fish such as salmon, tuna, sardines, herring and mackerel, as well as walnuts and healthy oils, including canola, flax seed, and soybean oil. Many green vegetables have small amounts of Omega-3 fatty acids. 
Other treatments, which are often used in conjunction with lights, include counseling, vitamin D and/or antidepressant medications.