What is seasonal affective disorder (SAD)? SAD is a form of depression also known as winter or seasonal depression. However, SAD is more than just “winter blues.” People with SAD experience symptoms similar to depression. The symptoms people experience can be very distressing and can interfere with daily functioning. Some of these symptoms include sleeping more, feelings of sadness, loss of interest or pleasure in activities which are usually enjoyed, decreased energy, decreased libido and irritability. Appetite may change too, with people tending to eat more.
SAD can also be experienced in the spring or summer but it is less common. Symptoms of “summer depression” are the reverse of winter depression and can include loss of appetite, weight loss, insomnia and agitation.
Many people believe that these changes in feelings are largely psychological. In many areas of the country it’s cold outside and people tend to socialize less due to bad weather. Also, the holidays are over. (This can be a great let down for some people, although for some individuals especially those who are grieving, this is a relief.)
Interestingly enough there are bio physiological reasons for SAD as well. When the days are shorter our bodies are exposed to much less sunlight. In some individuals, the brain produces chemicals that can cause changes in certain hormones and neurotransmitter levels. The result of this is that the level of serotonin available in our brains decreases. Depressive symptoms are strongly associated with low levels of serotonin.
Serotonin also helps regulate our sleep patterns. When our serotonin levels are down, sleep wake cycles (also known as ones circadian rhythm) are interrupted. This results in a lower quality of sleep.
There is help for those who are affected by SAD. Some affective treatments include talking therapies such as CBT, lifestyle changes such as exercising more regularly, planning to become involved in activities which one enjoys, eating a healthy diet and if needed antidepressant medications.
Another popular treatment for SAD is light therapy. Individuals sit in front of a bright light which is emitted from a light therapy box. This box filters out harmful ultraviolet rays. Individuals are often advised to sit in front of a box such as this for 20 minutes or longer every day during the winter months.
SAD can be a distressing condition which can interfere with one’s enjoyment of life. Don’t hesitate to reach out to medical and/or mental health professionals for help.
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