Fighting Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD)
July 10, 2018
With autumn settling in over the northern hemisphere, winter can’t be far behind. The daylight hours are already noticeably shorter, and colder temperatures are settling in, too. While the cold and dark are enough to make many of us a little gloomy, there is a small percentage of the population who actually suffer from a yearly form of depression known as Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD). According to the Mayo Clinic’s definition, “Seasonal affective disorder (SAD) is a type of depression that’s related to changes in seasons—SAD begins and ends at about the same times every year.”
Most people who suffer from SAD start to feel symptoms in the fall that continue into the winter months. Conversely, there is a smaller percentage of people affected by SAD who experience their seasonal depression in the spring or early summer. Unfortunately, it can be difficult to determine on your own if a bout of sadness is an indication of this disorder. So, a visit to your doctor should be your first step in fighting Seasonal Affective Disorder.
Symptoms and Risk Factors of Seasonal Affective Disorder
According to the Mayo Clinic, SAD is a subtype of major depression. Therefore, symptoms of major depression can also present in a patient affected by this disorder. Some of these symptoms include:
- Feeling depressed most days, for most of the day
- Losing interest in activities you usually enjoy
- Feeling worthless or hopeless
- Having trouble sleeping
- Changes in weight and/or appetite
- Feeling agitated or sluggish
- Difficulty concentrating
- Frequent thoughts of death and/or suicide
There are also a number of factors that can increase your risk of SAD:
- Being female – women tend to be diagnosed with SAD more often than men, but men sometimes have more severe symptoms.
- Age – younger people have a higher risk of winter SAD.
- Family history – many people with SAD have blood relatives who also suffer from SAD or other forms of depression.
- Living far from the equator – SAD appears more frequently among people who live far north or south of the equator. This may be due to the increase or decrease of daylight hours.
Contributing Factor of Seasonal Affective Disorder
The specific, central cause of SAD is unknown. However, there are some factors that may come into play in causing SAD. These include:
- Circadian rhythm disruption caused by reduced or increased levels of sunlight
- Drops in serotonin levels caused by reduced sunlight
- Changes in melatonin levels that can affect your sleep patterns and mood
Fighting Seasonal Affective Disorder
There are a number of ways to fight against SAD symptoms—some more clinical than others. We’ve put together this list of ways you can fight Seasonal Affective Disorder, starting with the more clinical.
1. Light Therapy
Light therapy is a common first step in treating fall-onset SAD. It’s not just about having more light around either. Specially designed light therapy boxes mimic natural outdoor light and seem to facilitate a change in brain chemicals linked to mood. Talk to your doctor before purchasing a light therapy box, though. They range in brightness and type of light, and your doctor can help you choose what’s best for you.
Psychotherapy, also called talk therapy, is available through telemental health and traditional channels to help treat SAD. It can help you identify and change negative thoughts and behaviors that can make SAD worse as well as help you to learn how to cope with SAD in a healthy way and manage your stress so that it doesn’t add to your problems.
If your symptoms are severe, your doctor may choose to start you on antidepressant medications like buproprion to help prevent depressive episodes. Follow your doctor’s instructions regarding your medications. These instructions may include taking the medications before your symptoms usually set in and after they normally go away.
4. Get Outside
Now we’re into the less clinical methods of fighting SAD. Spending time outdoors can help with fall-onset SAD. There are indications that being outside within two hours of waking up and spending as much time as possible outside during the day can help with SAD symptoms. This is probably associated with increased sunlight.
Regular exercise can help reduce symptoms of moderate seasonal and nonseasonal depression. Studies suggest that combining exercise with light therapy can help treat SAD more effectively. So, resist the mammalian urge to hibernate, and get active.
6. Increase Carb Consumption
Complex carbohydrates can help your body maintain serotonin levels. Serotonin is a neurotransmitter that helps your body regulate mood. Don’t take this as an excuse to eat whatever you want though. A moderate increase in complex carbohydrate consumption can help you fight SAD.
If you have depression symptoms on a regular, seasonal basis, please seek help. Don’t just rationalized your symptoms as an inevitable side effect of winter (or summer). Take action early, and you may be able to enjoy the season instead of feeling blue.