What is Seasonal Affective Disorder? (SAD)
Seasonal affective disorder (SAD) is a type of depression that’s related to changes in seasons. Most commonly, seasonal affective disorder will start in the fall or winter and end in the spring or early summer. There is, however, a more rare form of seasonal depression, known as summer depression, that begins in the late spring or early summer and ends in the fall.
Those affected by SAD will often brush off their symptoms of a close of the “winter blues.” SAD, and the mood changes that accompany it are more serious and can affect how a person feels, thinks, and handles daily activities. If you have noticed significant changes in your mood and behavior whenever the seasons change, you may be suffering from seasonal affective disorder.
The exact causes of Seasonal Affective Disorder are still unknown. Many scientists and researchers believe that certain brain hormones can trigger attitude-related changes at certain times of the year. Another theory that the lack of sunlight in the fall and winter leads to low levels of serotonin.
SAD usually doesn’t start in people younger than 20 years of age and is more common in women than in men. SAD is also less common in warmer climates where there is plenty of sunshine all year.
Symptoms of Seasonal Affective Disorder
Seasonal Affective Disorder is not considered a separate disorder, but a type of depression. Therefore, the signs and symptoms of SAD are similar to those seen in depressive disorders. It is important to note that not every person with SAD will experience all of the symptoms listed below.
If you think you may be suffering from SAD, talk to your health care provider or a mental health specialist about your concerns.
Signs and symptoms of SAD may include:
- Feeling depressed most of the day, nearly every day
- Losing interest in activities you once enjoyed
- Low energy
- Trouble Sleeping
- Changes in your appetite or weight
- Feeling sluggish or agitated
- Difficulty concentrating
- Feeling hopeless, worthless or guilty
- Having frequent thoughts of death or suicide
- Desire to be alone
How To Be Less S.A.D.
- Spending Time Outside: Try to get outside and get some natural sunlight once a day. Winter days are shorter, which means there’s less light, which can be a cause of seasonal depression.
- Physical Activity: If you can’t get outside, look for physicals activities you can do outside. Yoga, treadmill, weight lifting, and more can help fight symptoms of seasonal affective disorder.
- Sleep: Sleep is always important but especially during the winter months that have fewer hours of sunlight. Staying well-rested can help make winter more manageable. Teens and adults should be aiming for 7-10 hours of sleep each night.
- Hydrate: Being properly hydrated increases energy and brain function. A good rule of thumb is to drink at least 0.5oz of water for each pound you weigh.
- Talk Therapy (CBT): Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT) is a type of talk therapy that helps people cope with difficult situations. CBT-SAD is an adaptation of CBT that focuses on replacing negative thoughts related to the winter season with more positive thoughts. CBT-SAD also uses behavioral activation to identify and schedule pleasant and engaging activities to combat the symptoms of seasonal affective disorder.
- Light Therapy: Light therapy is a way to treat seasonal affective disorder by exposure to 10,000-lux artificial light. This therapy is thought to affect brain chemicals linked to mood and sleep, easing symptoms of SAD.
Supplements and Medications
- Vitamin D: Lack of sunlight exposure in the winter can lead to low Vitamin D levels. Supplementing this can help combat this deficiency and increase mood.
- Omega 3: Omega 3 Fatty Acids helps promote normal brain function. Fish oil is a great way to supplement this.
- 5-HTP: 5-hydroxytryptophan is a precursor to Serotonin and help improve Serotonin secretion when taken during the day.
- Melatonin: Melatonin is a hormone that helps to balance sleep/wake cycles and mood. The change of seasons can disrupt the balance of melatonin levels, which can result in trouble sleeping and bad moods due to being tired. A melatonin supplement supports a balance, so sleep/wake cycles stay normal year-round.
- St. John’s Wort: SJW has mood-balancing properties and widely recognized for its positive effects on mental and emotional function.
- SSRIs & Antidepressants: Antidepressant medications can be prescribed by a psychiatrist to help with symptoms of seasonal affective disorder.