Seasonal affective disorder (SAD) is also known as seasonal depression is a type of depression that happens during the change of seasons. It begins and ends at about same time every year, it usually start during the fall and winter months when there is less natural sunlight, it is often referred to as ‘winter blues’ or ‘winter depression’ which is a mild version of SAD, however it goes beyond this, it is a form of depression that affects your daily life, including how you think and act. Some individuals may experience a less common form of SAD which is known as “summer SAD” with symptoms occurring in the spring and summer.
According to the American Psychiatric Assoication, SAD is a major depressive disorder with seasonal patterns, Symptoms of SAD includes depressed mood; feelings of persistent sadness, irritability, anxiety. It also includes weight gain which is caused by carbohydrate cravings, difficulty in concentrating, loss of interest, social withdrawal. SAD can also lead to fatigue and low energy, sleep disturbances which includes hypersomnia; excessive daytime sleep and insomnia; difficulty falling asleep or staying asleep. For some persons, this symptoms can be severe and have a significant impact on their day to day activities.
There is no exact cause of SAD, however, researchers are of the opinion that lack of sunlight is the major trigger of SAD, but theorist suggest that it is caused by the following;
- Biological Clock Change; due to less sunlight, there is a change in your biological clock, which disrupts your body’s internal clock this change affects your mood, hormones, which leads to the feeling of depression.
- Serotonin Levels; brain chemicals are known as neurotransmitters, one of this chemical is Serotonin, which is responsible for the feeling of happiness, since sunlight helps regulate serotonin, lack of sunlight can make serotonin levels drop thereby leading to depression.
- Melatonin Levels; this is a chemical that affects your sleep pattern and mood, lack of sunlight may stimulate an overproduction of melatonin in some people, making them feel sluggish and sleepy during the winter.
There is no known way to prevent the first episode of SAD, however, there are treatment options that can help manage symptoms or prevent it from coming back, such as; Light Therapy, this involves exposure to bright light that mimics natural light, this can help alleviate SAD symptoms, it is important to use a light box specifically designed for this purpose. Other treatment options includes, getting antidepressant medication prescribed by your health care provider, spending time outdoors , taking Vitamin D supplements to help improve your symptoms, exercising, this can help relieve stress and maintain a healthy diet which can help manage cravings for high carb foods. There is treatment for SAD, talk to your health care provider and see what best works for you.