Seasonal Affective Disorder is a kind of depression, with symptoms beginning as the days become shorter and darker and worsen as the season progresses. Often people feel the effects from late fall into the end of winter, and symptoms can worsen through the season.
- Weight gain
- Craving carbohydrates
- Difficulty concentrating
- Sleeping too much or not enough
- Not wanting to go out or engage in any activities
The exact cause of SAD is not known, but it is assumed that as with most mental health disorders, that genetics, age, and your own physical makeup may all play a part in this disorder.
Some research seems to show that a lack of serotonin, a chemical in the brain that affects mood, might play a role. When sunlight is reduced it causes a drop in serotonin levels which might cause depression.
Another theory is that circadian rhythms are disrupted during the fall and winter for some people. Your circadian rhythm is like your internal clock, regulating when you sleep and when you wake up. If your natural clock is disrupted, it can also lead to depression.
Melatonin is a sleep-related hormone and during long winter nights, its production is increased. Melatonin has been linked to depression and is therefore considered to be a culprit in those who develop Seasonal Affective Disorder.
You’re more likely to develop SAD if you live in the northern regions where sunlight is at a premium during winter months.
You’re unlikely to have SAD below the age of 20 and you’re more at risk for it if you’re a woman rather than a man. While a genetic factor has not been found, you’re also more likely to suffer from it if you have a family member who also has it.
Six Tips To Battle SAD
- Take Vitamin D. Know your levels. The ideal number you should shoot for is 50-60 ng/ml. Work with your doctor to determine whether you a daily supplement throughout the winter months. Most people require between 2,000-5,000 IU daily of Vitamin D3.
- Get outside! Taking a walk within the first two hours of getting up is a great way to get fresh air and light, even if it’s cloudy. Natural light is much more potent than artificial light.
- Get a light box. For as little as 30 minutes a day, exposing your brain to a bright light can help mimic the longer days of summer while combating fatigue and oversleeping. Look for a light box that emits white light and filter out most UV light.
- Exercise regularly. Plan pleasurable physical activities to naturally increase serotonin and release healthy endorphins. Take advantage of snowy weather by taking a ski trip or tubing with kids in the neighborhood.
- Avoid alcohol. It can be easy to nurse your woes with a cocktail this time of year. These liquid calories can add up quickly and cause unwanted weight gain. Try substituting your nightcap with a relaxing cup of chamomile tea.
- Manage your stress. Start a gratitude or daily meditation practice (Change Your Life Series- Free) so that you can stay focused on the positive things in your life. Consider adding in acupuncture or massage therapy to support your well-being.
If you are experiencing these symptoms for longer than 2-3 weeks or having severe depressive reactions, please contact your physician for a full evaluation.
Just like its close cousin depression, symptoms of SAD can be pronounced and severe. If left untreated it can interfere with everyday activities and in some drastic cases lead to thoughts of suicide. So seek help if you believe you’re suffering from SAD.