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Seasonal Affective Disorder

New York Teacher

Many people experience the “winter blues” in response to the change of seasons. Research over the past 30 years has identified this as a true medical condition known as Seasonal Affective Disorder, or SAD.

Symptoms usually start in the fall and continue into the winter months, sapping your spirits and energy. Less frequently, SAD can occur in the spring or early summer.

In a school, the change of seasons means less time outdoors, arriving at work in the dark and leaving in the dark and less sunlight in your classroom, which may be overheated or too cold.

It can take a toll when you stay late for meetings, arrive home in the dark and then have to write lesson plans without having had any sunlight in your day.

SAD can also be triggered by the death of someone you care about or tragic events, such as the terror attack in lower Manhattan on Oct. 31. Feelings of grief and loss, irritability and anxiety become magnified as a result of having less daylight.

Signs and symptoms:

  • Feeling depressed and having low energy;
  • Losing interest in activities you once enjoyed;
  • Social withdrawal, including declining invitations to events after work;
  • Sleep problems;
  • Changes in appetite, such as craving comfort foods;
  • Difficulty concentrating; or
  • Feeling hopeless, worthless or guilty.

Suggestions for treatment

  • Increase light exposure by taking a walk around your school;
  • Have lunch with a coworker;
  • Open a classroom window to get fresh air;
  • Schedule outdoor field trips;
  • Wear colorful clothes or brighten your classroom with colorful art;
  • Try bright light therapy (lightboxes or lamps) with doctor support. (Do not use tanning beds as treatment.)

In rare cases, people with Seasonal Affective Disorder have frequent thoughts of death or suicide. If this happens to you, see a doctor and get mental health support. You may benefit from talk therapy and antidepressant medications. NYC Well, the city’s free, confidential support service, is a good resource.

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