For some people, the change of seasons is a welcomed one. For others, it can be dreaded. As many as 10 million Americans experience a drastic change in mood during the transition from summer to fall, known as Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD).
SAD is often referred to as winter depression, but it can occur during the transition from spring to summer as well. While it is common to feel some winter blues, people with SAD experience such extreme depression that it makes functioning nearly impossible. Psychology Today outlined the symptoms of SAD as:
- Feelings of depression, sadness, guilt, hopelessness, or worthlessness
- Being unable to enjoy activities you once loved
- Procrastination, distraction, and difficulty focusing
- Anger. While anger is not a “traditional” depression symptom, some people respond to SAD with anger and irritability toward loved ones; this is especially common among men.
- Changes in sleep habits. You might have trouble falling asleep, or find that you spend much of your day sleeping or tired.
- Changes in weight or eating habits
- Withdrawing from social activities
- Craving foods high in carbohydrates
- Inability to tolerate stress
Researchers aren’t certain as to what the cause of SAD is, but a change in daylight and UV ray exposure seems to be the most likely explanation. There is also evidence that both melatonin and serotonin may play a role. Melatonin is a hormone that helps control your sleep and wake cycles. When there is less daylight, your body produces more melatonin. This can decrease your energy and make you more tired, leading to feelings of depression. Serotonin is a neurotransmitter that plays an important part in balancing your mood. It was found that people with decreased serotonin levels were more likely to suffer from SAD.
There are also certain factors that may put you more at risk of developing SAD. According to Psychology Today, these risk factors include:
- Experiencing a trauma or tragedy during the winter months. People who have lost a relative or suffered a life-altering event during the winter months may be triggered by memories of this event to become depressed each year.
- A history of stressful or chaotic family holiday events; some people have families that are so dysfunctional that simply spending time together – or contemplating spending time together – makes them more vulnerable to depression.
- Living far away from the equator, where there is less sunlight and therefore fewer UV rays.
- Sex. Women are more likely to develop SAD, but men appear to have more serious symptoms when they get it.
- Age. SAD is more common among young people.
- Having a history of depression or bipolar disorder.
If you or someone you know is suffering from SAD, there are treatment options available. Light therapy is one of the treatments, and not only is it very effective, but it’s the least costly. Light therapy is most effective when it is used for 30 minutes or more a day. There are many different light boxes available, varying in price and size, that can easily be tailored to your needs and budget. Unfortunately, light therapy isn’t a solution for everyone. More serious cases may require medication, which can be really effective, especially when combined with therapy. Therapy can help you learn coping mechanisms to more effectively manage SAD, and it can better prepare you for the winter months (or summer). You never have to be alone in your struggles, don’t be afraid to reach out for help.
Medical News Today