It's that time of year again. With winter about to dawn, for millions of Americans, 'tis the season for the malady known as Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD). Also known as winter depression, SAD causes both emotional and physical distress and can negatively impact work productivity and personal relationships. Despite their best efforts to create a healthy home office environment, SAD sufferers often find themselves unable to function at full capacity as they battle symptoms that include loss of energy, anxiety, lack of concentration, poor sleep, increased appetite and, yes, even sadness.
Can a change in seasons actually affect your mood? According to studies conducted since 1984 by the National Institute of Mental Health, it absolutely can, due to changes in brain chemistry that occur with the onset of fall and shorter days consisting of less sunlight.
Fortunately, SAD is relatively easy to treat, says psychologist Pat Hudson. While antidepressant medication is sometimes prescribed, the most prevalent treatment remains light therapy, which uses desktop light boxes the size of small TVs that emit 10 to 20 times the light intensity of standard indoor lighting. The therapeutic bath of artificial light stimulates chemical changes in your brain--and helps alleviate SAD symptoms.
"Light therapy only takes half an hour a day, and you should notice a difference in about a week," says Hudson. "It's very convenient, particularly if you have a home office; you can sit right there at the computer and keep working." Similar technology is available in a light visor worn on the head.
For milder cases of SAD, dawn simulators offer a relatively inexpensive alternative. Consisting of an alarm clock that features a light on top, the light switches on and gradually glows brighter in the final hour before the user awakens.
Increasing in popularity, at-home negative ion therapy also appears to increase energy levels and reduce depression in some SAD sufferers. If you suspect you have SAD, consult a qualified health-care professional for diagnosis and treatment.