Seasonal Affective Disorder

As the name suggests, seasonal affective disorder is a type of a depression which is related to change in seasons, which means that it begins and ends at the same time every year. In most of the people the symptoms begin during the fall and continue into the winter months. On the other hand, a few percentage of people experience the symptoms during the spring and summer months. In both these cases, symptoms may appear mild in the beginning and gradually become more severe as the season progresses.

Some of the signs and symptoms may include:

  • Feeling depressed/low nearly every day
  • Losing interest in activities you enjoyed earlier
  • Having low energy
  • Having problems with sleeping
  • Experiencing changes in appetite or weight
  • Feeling sluggish or agitated
  • Having difficulty concentrating
  • Feeling hopeless, worthless or guilty
  • Having frequent thoughts of death or suicide

Symptoms specifically related to winter-onset SAD, sometimes called winter depression, may include:

  • Oversleeping
  • Appetite changes, especially a craving for foods high in carbohydrates
  • Weight gain
  • Tiredness or low energy
  • Spring and summer SAD

Whereas, symptoms specific to summer-onset seasonal affective disorder, often called summer depression, may include:

  • Trouble sleeping (insomnia)
  • Poor appetite
  • Weight loss
  • Agitation or anxiety

Right time to see the doctor:

It’s normal to feel low on some days. However, if you feel down for several days at a time and you don’t feel motivated at all to do activities you normally enjoy, you must see a doctor. This becomes extremely important when your sleep patterns and appetite change or you turn to alcohol for comfort or relaxation, or you feel hopeless or encounter suicidal thoughts.

Complications

Signs and symptoms of seasonal affective disorder need to be taken seriously. SAD can get worse and lead to problems if not treated. The complications may include:

  • Social withdrawal
  • School or work problems
  • Substance abuse
  • Other mental health disorders such as anxiety or eating disorders
  • Suicidal thoughts or behavior

Causes

What actually causes the seasonal affective disorder still remains unknown. Some factors that might play a role include:

  • Circadian rhythm: The reduced level of sunlight in fall and winter may lead to winter-onset SAD. This decrease in sunlight may disrupt the body’s internal clock or the circadian rhythm thus, leading to a feeling of depression.
  • Serotonin levels:  A drop in serotonin, which is basically a neurotransmitter that affects mood, might play a crucial role in SAD. Reduced sunlight can cause a drop in serotonin that may trigger depression.
  • Melatonin levels:The change in season can disturb the balance of the melatonin levels in the body, which also has a role in sleep patterns and mood.

Who is at a greater risk?

Seasonal affective disorder is diagnosed more often in women as compared to the men and more often in younger adults than the older adults.

Factors that may increase a person’s risk of getting seasonal affective disorder include:

  • Family history:  People with SAD may be more likely to have blood relatives with SAD or another form of depression.
  • Having major depression or bipolar disorder: Symptoms of depression may worsen seasonally if you have either of these conditions.
  • Living far from the equator: SAD is found to be more common among the people who live far north or south of the equator. This could be due to a decreased amount of sunlight during the winter and longer days during the summer months.

Diagnosis:

  • Physical exam: In some cases, depression may be linked to an underlying physical health problem. Therefore, the doctor may do a physical exam and ask in-depth questions about the person’s health.
  • Lab tests: The doctor may do some blood tests like- complete blood count (CBC) or test your thyroid to ensure it’s functioning properly.
  • Psychological evaluation:To check for signs of depression,the doctor usually asks about your symptoms, thoughts, feelings and behavior patterns. 

Treatment

Treatment for seasonal affective disorder may include light therapy, medications and psychotherapy. If you have bipolar disorder, you must tell your doctor because both treatments can potentially trigger a manic episode.

Before your appointment, make a list of:

  • Your symptoms, such as feeling down, having a lack of energy, excess sleeping and appetite changes
  • Your depression patterns, such as when your depression starts and what seems to make it better or worse
  • Any other mental or physical health problems you have — both can affect mood
  • Any major stressors or life changes you’ve had recently
  • All medications, vitamins, herbs or other supplements you’re taking, including dosages
  • Questions to ask your doctor or mental health professional

Lifestyle Changes:

In addition to treatment for seasonal affective disorder:

  • Make your environment sunnier and brighter. 
  • Get outside:Take a long walk or simply sit on a bench and bask in the sun. Even on cold or cloudy days, outdoor light can help — especially if you spend some time outside within two hours of getting up in the morning.
  • Exercise regularly: Exercise and other types of physical activity help relieve stress and anxiety by releasing mood enhancing hormones like- endorphins, thus, relieving SAD symptoms. Being more fit can make you feel better about yourself, too, which can perhaps, lift your mood.
  • Take care of yourself: Get enough sleep to help you feel rested, but be careful not to get too much rest, as SAD symptoms often lead people to feel like hibernating. Participate in an exercise program or engage in another form of regular physical activity. Make healthy choices for meals and snacks. Don’t turn to alcohol or recreational drugs for relief.
  • Practice stress management: Learn techniques to manage your stress such as breathing techniques, meditation, music, etc.
  • Socialize: When you’re feeling down, it can be hard to be social. Make an effort to connect with people you enjoy being around. They can offer support, a shoulder to cry on or shared laughter giving you a little boost.

#Content Created by Akanksha Mahajan

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