Seasonal Affective Disorder, or SAD, is a type of depression related to changes in the season. While SAD can occur any time during the year, it typically starts in the fall and continues through the winter months.
What Causes Seasonal Affective Disorder?
When seasonal affective disorder happens in the winter time, it is generally caused by the reduction of sunlight. This is due to the shorter days as well as spending less time outdoors in the sunshine.
Reduced levels of sunlight disrupts the body’s internal clock, also known as the circadian rhythm. These rhythms or cycles are natural, internal processes that regulate your sleep-wake cycle. They repeat roughly every 24 hours.
When your exposure to sunlight is reduced, your brain produces more melatonin. This is a hormone that regulates your sleep-wake cycle by responding to darkness.
So when it gets darker earlier in the day, your mind goes into bedtime mode. This sudden switch to sleepiness can bring in feelings of lethargy and zap your motivation, leading to a depression.
Drop in Serotonin
Wintertime will also cause a drop in serotonin, the neurotransmitter in your brain that affects mood. The result can be feelings of sadness and other negative emotions.
The onset of these emotions can lead to depression as well.
Symptoms of Seasonal Affective Disorder
The symptoms of Seasonal Affective Disorder are similar to the symptoms of regular depression. For the most part, the signs of SAD are typically related to the lack of energy and motivation.
The onset of Seasonal Affective Disorder usually happen during the autumn months as the temperatures get colder and persist or intensify during the winter months.
If you are experience SAD, you may notice any of the following symptoms:
- Wanting to sleep all the time.
- Finding it hard to carry out daily tasks.
- Weight gain due to an increase in carb intake.
- Cravings for sugary and starchy foods.
- No joy in previously enjoyed activities.
- Feelings of sadness, guilt and irritability.
- Social avoidance.
- Constantly feeling tense or stressed.
Should you suspect you are suffering from Seasonal Affective Disorder, it is important to seek the advice of a healthcare professional to discuss treatment options.\
Treatment for Seasonal Affective Disorder
Seasonal Affective Disorder is treatable like most forms of depression but, because of the nature of its cause, there is equipment that can help ease the symptoms along with medication and self care.
When you speak to your doctor, they may recommend an antidepressant treatment. Your doctor will prescribe an appropriate medication and dosage.
If you frequently suffer from. Seasonal Affective Disorder each year, your doctor will likely have you begin and antidepressant treatment before the symptoms typically begin and continue the treatment until Spring. The effects of antidepressants can take a few weeks to kick in.
Another form of treatment your doctor will likely recommend is light therapy – also known as phototherapy.
This treatment involves using a special light box during the first hour of waking up. This light mimics natural outdoor light and causes changes in brain chemicals linked to mood.
These light boxes can be purchased online and usually cost less than $100.
When SAD begins to creep into your life, you should take some time to focus on your self care. This can help you avoid the negative side effects Seasonal Affective Disorder can have on your mental and physical well being.
Here are some ideas for taking care of yourself in the winter:
- Stay active.
- Keep yourself hydrated.
- Write in a journal.
- Sip on warm teas.
- Gather with friends and family.
- Start a project.
By keeping your body healthy, your brain active and surrounding yourself with a support system, you can dampen the effects of Seasonal Affective Disorder.
Have you ever experienced SAD? Let us know how you dealt with this form of depression.