It's the start of another season and everyone's getting into the change. From houses to restaurants, even your favorite bookstores are redecorating and redesigning. Unfortunately, not everyone can get into the spirit. Most people often experience a feeling of sadness and loss of interest in their favorite activities when the winter months start settling in. This “winter blues“ is called a seasonal affective disorder or SAD.
Seasonal Affective Disorder, as the name implies, is a major type of depression that's associated with the change of seasons, usually the beginning of winter seasons. It often starts early or mid-fall worsening until it comes to an end during the beginning of spring. Research shows that about 5% of adults in the US have experienced SAD. It is said to be more common in women than men and affects more people living further North where they have shorter daylight hours during the cold seasons. Although some people may also experience SAD in the summertime. This is less common.
Causes of Seasonal Affective Disorder
While it's still unclear what exactly causes seasonal affective disorder, it is safe to say that a lack of sunlight has a huge role to play in triggering the condition. The following are a few reasons why.
Increase of Melatonin and Decrease of Serotonin: Serotonin is a brain chemical that enhances our feelings of happiness. It's often regulated by sunlight. Since the winter seasons come with reduced sunlight, your serotonin levels may fall leaving you feeling sad and depressed. You may also develop a vitamin D deficiency due to the lack of sunlight. And while your serotonin may be low due to this, your melatonin will be most likely to be quite high because of it as well. Since melatonin affects your sleep patterns and your moods, you should expect to be a lot more tired and sleepy.
· An Internal Shift: Lower levels of sunlight during the winter may disrupt your body's circadian rhythm. This helps regulate your body's sleep routine, daily habits, moods, and hormones. When it gets out of step, you may fall into seasonal affective disorder.
Symptoms of Seasonal Affective Disorder
Since the seasonal affective disorder is a major type of depressive disorder, a person with SAD will experience common symptoms of depression which may include:
· A persistent feeling of depression and sadness.
· Lack of energy and tiredness
· Feeling irritated
· Having little or no energy
· A lack of interest in one's favorite activities
· Decreased sex drive
· Frequent suicidal thoughts
· Hypersomnia (oversleeping)
People with summer-patterned SAD often experience insomnia, feelings of restlessness, irritation, anxiety, and a lack of appetite leading to weight loss and bursts of anger.
Do I have SAD?
If you think you may have SAD, the best way to know is to go get properly diagnosed by your healthcare provider or a mental health specialist as it is considered a serious mental health issue. However, it is more common in younger people and women so you may want to get checked if you're experiencing any of the symptoms we talked about previously. Notwithstanding, here are other factors that could put you at risk of triggering SAD.
· You live further North and don't get a lot of sunlight.
· You suffer a lack of vitamin D
· You have any other mood disorder
· You feel more depressed during a specific season than the rest of the year.
· You have family members with SAD or any other type of depressive disorder.
If you experience any or all of this, do ensure you go see your healthcare provider or a psychiatrist. They'll walk you through your diagnosis and provide you with all the other information you may need. You may be diagnosed with SAD if you are experiencing any of the symptoms listed above. Diagnosis isn't limited to these criteria and they could also be pointing to a different mental health issue entirely. So endeavor to not self-diagnose. Your mental health is an important part of who you are and should not be taken for granted.
Is there a treatment?
While the first wave of SAD may not be prevented, people who have been diagnosed can begin treatment after the diagnosis. It is advised that treatment starts before the beginning of the fall season to better aid the prevention or reduction of depression. There are 4 main types of treatments for seasonal affective disorder. Your psychiatrist will prescribe the one better suited for you.
· Light Therapy: The cause of Seasonal Affective Disorder is closely linked to a significant lack of sunlight hence the use of light therapy to reduce its effect. Light therapy works with the use of a special lamp about 20 times brighter than normal. It's mostly used during the day times. Make sure to discuss with your healthcare provider how long you'd need to use it, how often and if there are any health complications, and how you can avoid them. You may experience some side effects such as insomnia, headaches, and strains in your eyes so be sure to discuss that as well.
· Counseling or Cognitive Behavioral Therapy: This is a type of talk therapy that is said to effectively treat SAD. It is focused on helping people learn how to adapt to difficult situations. It is proven that CBT produces a long-lasting solution to seasonal affective disorder.
· Antidepressants Medication: Taking antidepressant medication help to regulate your serotonin levels. Serotonin enhances your feeling of happiness. There are several antidepressants you could take. Be sure to take them according to the prescription given to you by your health specialist.
· Spending as much time outdoors: If you've been diagnosed with SAD you need all the sunlight you can get. Taking a walk, having a picnic, or meeting up with friends outdoors will help in giving you the energy boost you need. Plus, you'd be getting all the vitamin D from the sun. Try to get enough sunlight into your home as well.
Make sure you eat healthy, exercise, and take your medications consistently. Get as much sunlight as you can. You do not need to switch up your entire schedule during the change of season so make slow and small changes. Create time for rest and indulge in the activities you love even more.