Are you SAD…?
If you are anything like me, when the summer gives way to the fall and winter months, so does my mood, at least for a period of time. Seasonal Affective Disorder or SAD as it is commonly called is a disorder that affects one’s mood, appetite, and energy levels to name a few, due to the changes in seasons. This disorder can take over even the best of us, so don’t disregard those feelings of low energy that can sweep over you during the winter months into spring/summer. The symptoms of SAD can start out small and progress over time, as the season continues. As the days get shorter, displaying less sunlight, along with colder temperatures, so can one’s emotions and mood. For those individuals that do not have a mental diagnosis, can still experience symptoms of SAD at times, as the season changes.
Some of the most common symptoms of SAD can include:
Feeling sad or down mostly every day and finding it hard to shake this feeling.
Having bouts of cravings, especially carbs and unhealthy foods, overeating, weight gain.
Lacking focus and concentrating.
Little interest in activities you once enjoyed.
Experiencing low spurts of energy, feeling sluggish.
Feelings of hopelessness and worthlessness.
Over sleeping and having difficulty getting out of bed.
Increase thoughts of suicidal ideations.
SAD falls into two categories
Fall and Winter SAD
This type of SAD also called Winder Depression, takes place with the onset of winter. Have you ever known someone that perks up in the summertime and warmer months, but once the fall/winter season begins their mood, energy level also changes? This is real for hundreds of thousands of Americans during this time of the year.
Some symptoms common to fall and winter SAD include:
Feeling excessive tiredness and having low energy.
Changes in appetite, cravings especially for unhealthy foods.
Spring and Summer SAD
This type of SAD, also called Summer Depression, affects those with the onset of the summer and warmer months.
Some common symptoms of spring/summer SAD include:
Feeling irritable and restless.
Lack of appetite.
Feeling agitated or symptoms of Anxiety.
Lack of sleep or insomnia.
Some common causes of SAD.
Research suggestion that the specific cause of SAD, still remains unknown. Some common factors include:
Research also suggests a drop in serotonin, a brain chemical that affects one’s mood, might also play a role in SAD. Less daily sunlight can cause a drop in this chemical that may trigger symptoms of depression.
Studies also indicate that the change in season can disrupt the balance of melatonin in the body, which plays a major role in sleep patterns and mood.
One’s biological clock or circadian rhythm, may also play a role in SAD. The reduced and lack of daily sunlight that occurs in the fall and winter months may cause the winter onset of SAD. Studies indicate that this decrease in sunlight can disrupt one’s internal body clock and may lead to feelings of depression.
Further research suggests that individuals living further away from the equator, have a higher prevalence of SAD, than those who live closer to the equator. Many of the countries that are closer to the equator, usually do not have seasons, and therefore do not experience winter solstice, whilst those that are further away from the equator do. This shows that a decrease in sunlight can play a role in SAD.
Which brings me to my next point, lower levels of vitamin D can also be attributed to those who live further away from the equator. While some vitamin D is produced in the skin when it’s exposed to sunlight, with reduced daylight and colder temperature preventing outdoor activities, research suggests that this fact can play a role in SAD. Extensive research on Vitamin D shows that it contributes to and can help boost serotonin activity.
Research indicates that SAD is diagnosed more frequently in women than in men. SAD also occurs more often in younger adults than in older adults.
Some common factors that may increase your risk of SAD include:
Other mental health diagnoses such as an eating disorder, anxiety or depression.
Lack of focus or concentration, especially at work or school.
Increased suicidal ideations.
When to seek help.
It’s not unusual to feel down and experience a low mood and energy level from time to time. However, if you are experiencing any of these symptoms for an extended period of time as well as increased suicidal ideations, this is a good time to seek out help starting with your doctor. If you are someone who already suffers from symptoms of depression, or have a history of depression in your family, this will also be a good time to seek out help. Also, not forgetting disturbance in your sleep patterns, increased changes in appetite and the lack of enjoyment in pleasurable things
Treatment of SAD:
According to research light therapy or phototherapy, is a popular and prevalent treatment. This type of therapy mimics outdoor light, psychotherapy and medications, including antidepressants seem to be the best interventions used when treating SAD. While some individuals may need to start treatment before the onset of the change in season and continue treatment, others may need continuous treatment to prevent the return of symptoms.
There is no real way to prevent SAD as research suggests however, some individuals may be at a higher risk than others. If you are already experiencing symptoms of SAD, or know that you are prone to it once the season begins to change, then this is the time for you to take action. Do not shrug off those feelings of low mood, low energy level, appetite changes and other symptoms of depression, as nothing. SAD is real and affects hundreds of thousands of Americans yearly. You can get help for the “Winter Blues”, you do not have to suffer alone. Reach out to your doctor or psychiatrist if you are experiencing any of the symptoms discussed above. Early treatment may prevent more complicated and serious symptoms from taking place later.