Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD), a type of depression that’s related to changes in
seasons, is estimated to affect 10 million Americans. For most people, symptoms appear during late fall or early winter, making you feel blue around the winter holidays, or sad and disappointed after all the celebrations are over. While it’s normal to experience the “winter blues”, feeling sad, hopeless or lethargic for days or weeks at a time can be symptoms of something more serious, including depression. A smaller number of people experience symptoms in the spring or early summer.
The specific causes of SAD are unknown, but there are several factors that may contribute to this seasonal disorder:
• Your biological clock (circadian rhythm).The reduced level of sunlight in fall and winter may cause winter-onset SAD. This decrease in sunlight may disrupt your body's internal clock and lead to feelings of depression.
• Serotonin levels.A drop in serotonin, a brain chemical (neurotransmitter) that affects mood, might play a role in SAD. Reduced sunlight can cause a drop in serotonin that may trigger depression.
• Melatonin levels.The change in season can disrupt the balance of the body's level of melatonin, which plays a role in sleep patterns and mood.
In addition to seeking professional help, there are things you can do to keep your mood and motivation steady throughout the year.
• Make your environment sunnier and brighter.Open blinds, trim tree branches that block sunlight or add skylights to your home. Sit closer to bright windows while at home or in the office.
• Get outside.Take a long walk, eat lunch at a nearby park, or simply sit on a bench and soak up 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, both of which can increase SAD symptoms. Being more fit can make you feel better about yourself, too, which can lift your mood.
• Get enough sleep. Make sure you get between 7-8 hours of sleep per day. Don’t over sleep because you are bored or lonely.
• Eat well. Practice good eating habits and eating healthy foods. Also, drink lots of water and limit caffeine.
• Make plans with friends. Don’t stay alone in your home because the weather makes it tough to get around. Make plans with friends on days when the weather permits easier travel.
• Take up a hobby/crafting. Plan activities that you enjoy. Take up a hobby or start crafting.
Remember, symptoms may start out mild and become more severe as the season progresses. If you are experiences severe mood changes due to seasonal changes, it’s important to visit your health care provider to get an evaluation and choose the best treatment path for your specific needs. Getting control of your symptoms before they get bad will help you control any serious changes in mood, appetite and energy level, and help you better enjoy the beauty of each season.
Be sure to read next week’s blog on Treatments for Seasonal Affect Disorder.