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Understanding Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD)

It’s that time of year when the clocks go back, plunging us into darkness after work. The cold and gloomy weather adds to the seasonal blues, and memes about feeling sad become common.

In the northern latitudes, the darkening days bring about more than just discomfort—they can lead to a genuine mental struggle.

Seasonal affective disorder (SAD), or seasonal depression, is more prevalent in winter due to reduced sunlight (although it can occur at any time of the year). It goes beyond mere “winter blues.” SAD symptoms include low energy, listlessness, poor focus, decreased interest and motivation, oversleeping, weight gain, and even thoughts of suicide. Women are estimated to be three times more susceptible than men.

Symptoms

A person with SAD may:

  • Withdraw socially and no longer enjoy things that were fun. It’s like their batteries have run out.
  • Crave or are provoked to consume so-called comfort foods that contain simple carbohydrates, such as pasta, bread, and sugar, which promote fatigue and increase the desire to sleep and gain weight.
  • Feel anxious, irritable, have difficulty sleeping, or have a decreased appetite. These symptoms are more common in spring or summer SAD.

What causes Seasonal Affective Disorder?

The exact cause of SAD is unclear. Some evidence suggests a disruption in the body’s natural sleep-wake cycle, known as the circadian rhythm, triggered by the decreasing daylight in winter. Daylight influences the production of melatonin (promoting sleep) and serotonin (fighting depression). In winter, the body produces more melatonin and less serotonin. The reasons for varying susceptibility to SAD among individuals remain unknown to researchers.

SAD is typically more acknowledged in adults, given that many mental health disorders in children become apparent gradually. Diagnosing SAD in a child is challenging because identifying the depression pattern takes time. Doctors initially assess for depression or anxiety, then observe the pattern over time. A confirmed SAD diagnosis requires meeting depression criteria and having symptoms with a seasonal pattern for at least 2 years.

SAD treatment

Several effective treatments can help SAD sufferers, including:

  • Open the blinds or curtains in your house. Just a little sunlight can help treat mild cases.
  • Spend time outdoors every day, even on cloudy days.
  • Exercise regularly and eat a healthy diet, one low in simple carbohydrates and rich in vegetables, fruits, and whole grains.
  • Use a “sunrise simulator,” which gradually turns on the light in the room, tricking the body into thinking it is an early sunrise.
  • Take a family vacation in the middle of winter to a warm, sunny climate.
  • Light therapy – sit for three hours a day in front of a light box or use a light viewer that filters out ultraviolet rays. However, light therapy is not recommended for children. Check with your child’s doctor before considering this treatment.
  • If these treatments don’t work, prescription antidepressant medications can help regulate serotonin and other neurotransmitters that affect mood.

Conclusion

Overcoming Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD) involves addressing both physical and mental well-being. Acknowledge the impact of reduced sunlight on your body’s rhythms and neurotransmitters. Adjust your lifestyle with more natural light, regular exercise, and a balanced diet. If necessary, seek professional guidance for personalized strategies. Take proactive measures and adopt a holistic approach to navigate darker seasons with resilience. Improved mental and emotional health awaits through empowering choices for your well-being.

Resources

  1. APA.org: The American Psychological Association (APA) provides its website visitors with a wide range of information and resources related to psychology, including research, publications, educational materials, and information about the organization itself.
  2. Child Mind Institute: Child Mind Institute’s website, provides information about their healthcare services, facilities, medical professionals, patient resources, and more.
  3. NIMH: On the National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH) website, you can find a wealth of information related to mental health, research findings, treatment options, and resources for individuals, families, and healthcare professionals.

Helpful Links

If you or someone you know needs to talk to a professional, contact us now to schedule your initial virtual session. You can call us at 888-409-8976 or click HERE to schedule it online.

Take care and be open to the possibility of a brighter, more grateful tomorrow.

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