Seasonal affective disorder (SAD) is a type of depression that occurs during certain seasons of the year, usually winter or summer.
The symptoms and causes of SAD are:
- Feeling sad, low, or depressed most of the time, almost every day
- Losing interest or pleasure in activities that you normally enjoy
- Having low energy and feeling tired or sluggish
- Having trouble sleeping or sleeping too much
- Craving carbohydrates and eating more than usual
- Gaining or losing weight
- Having difficulty concentrating or making decisions
- Feeling hopeless, worthless, or guilty
- Having thoughts of death or suicide
Some people may have different symptoms depending on the season. For example, people with winter SAD may experience oversleeping, weight gain, and low energy, while people with summer SAD may experience insomnia, poor appetite, weight loss, and agitation.
The exact cause of SAD is not known, but it may be related to several factors, such as:
- Changes in the body’s internal clock, or circadian rhythm, regulate sleep and wake cycles. Less sunlight and shorter days in winter may disrupt the body’s clock and cause depression. More sunlight and longer days in summer may also affect the body’s clock and cause mood changes.
- Changes in the brain’s chemical balance, especially serotonin, which is a neurotransmitter that affects mood, appetite, and sleep. Low levels of serotonin may be linked to depression. Sunlight may help increase serotonin levels, while darkness may lower them.
- Changes in the hormone melatonin, which is involved in sleep and mood regulation. Melatonin levels vary with the seasons and the amount of light exposure. Higher levels of melatonin in winter may make you feel sleepy and depressed. Lower levels of melatonin in summer may make you feel restless and irritable.
- Vitamin D deficiency, which may result from lack of sun exposure. Vitamin D is essential for many bodily functions, including bone health, the immune system, and brain function. Low levels of vitamin D may contribute to depression and other health problems.
Some people may be more prone to SAD than others, depending on their risk factors, such as:
- Family history of depression or SAD
- Personal history of depression or bipolar disorder
- Gender (women are more likely to have SAD than men)
- Age (young adults are more likely to have SAD than older adults)
- Location (people who live far from the equator are more likely to have SAD than those who live closer)
SAD can have serious consequences if left untreated, such as:
- Social withdrawal and isolation
- Substance abuse or addiction
- Impaired work or school performance
- Relationship problems
- Suicidal thoughts or actions
Therefore, it is important to seek professional help if you think you have SAD and you are finding it hard to cope. There are effective treatments available, such as light therapy, medication, and psychotherapy, that can help you manage your symptoms and improve your quality of life.
Ten Tips to Cope With S.A.D
- Try light therapy: This involves exposing yourself to a bright light that mimics natural sunlight for a certain amount each day. Light therapy can help regulate your body clock and boost your mood. You can use a special light box, lamp, or dawn simulator for this purpose
- Take vitamin D supplements: Vitamin D is essential for many bodily functions, including brain health and mood regulation. Low vitamin D levels may contribute to SAD, especially in winter, with less sun exposure. Taking vitamin D supplements may help improve your symptoms
- Exercise regularly: Physical activity can help release endorphins, natural chemicals that make you feel good. Exercise can also improve your energy, sleep, and self-esteem. Aim for at least 30 minutes of moderate exercise, such as walking, cycling, or swimming, three times a week.
- Eat a balanced diet: Eating well can help nourish your body and mind and prevent mood swings caused by hunger or cravings. Eat foods rich in omega-3 fatty acids, such as oily fish, nuts, and seeds, as they may help reduce inflammation and depression. Avoid foods that are high in sugar, fat, and caffeine, as they may worsen your symptoms
- Stick to a routine: A consistent schedule can help you cope with the changes in daylight and weather. Try to wake up and go to bed at the same time every day and plan your activities ahead of time. This can help you stay motivated and productive.
- Talk to someone: Sharing your feelings with someone you trust can help you feel less alone and more supported. You can talk to a friend, family member, or therapist or join a support group for people with SAD.
- Learn ways to relax: Stress can worsen your symptoms of SAD, so it is important to find healthy ways to cope with it. You can try relaxation techniques, such as yoga, meditation, breathing exercises, or massage, to calm your mind and body.
- Do something you enjoy: Engaging in hobbies or activities that make you happy can help lift your mood and distract you from negative thoughts. You can try something creative, such as music, art, or writing, or something fun, such as watching a comedy, playing a game, or reading a book.
- Get outside: Spending time outdoors can help you get more natural light and fresh air, improving your mood and energy. Even on cloudy days, there is still some sunlight that can benefit you. Try to get at least 20 minutes of outdoor exposure every day, preferably in the morning.
- Seek professional help: If your symptoms are severe or interfere with your daily life, you may need to see a doctor or a mental health professional. They can diagnose your condition and prescribe medication, such as antidepressants, or therapy, such as cognitive behavioural therapy, to help you manage your symptoms and cope with your feelings. Don’t hesitate to ask for help if you need it