Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD), also referred to as seasonal depression, is generally a type of depression that appears to be related to seasonal changes, often starting in the fall, and continuing through the winter months. Although it may be a widespread condition, it can be challenging to diagnose and treat, and many individuals may live with it without realizing exactly what they’re experiencing. This condition may result from a lack of sunlight in the fall and winter months, but other factors can include genetics, age, latitude, and personal history. Seasonal depression can often be treated with light therapy, lifestyle changes, and online or in-person talk therapy.
Symptoms Of Seasonal Affective Disorder
It can be important to note that not everyone experiences the same symptoms of seasonal depression. However, some common indicators can include the following:
- Low energy levels and fatigue
- Decreased interest in activities
- Feelings of hopelessness, guilt, or worthlessness
- Changes in appetite, particularly an increase in cravings for carbohydrates
- Weight gain
- Excessive sleeping or difficulty sleeping
- Struggles with concentration
- Social withdrawal
If you have been experiencing these symptoms for two or more consecutive winters and they tend to alleviate in the spring or summer, it may be possible that you could have SAD.
Potential Causes Of Seasonal Depression
Other factors that may contribute to the development of SAD may include:
Individuals with a family history of depression might have a higher risk of developing SAD. This could suggest that there might be a genetic component to the development of seasonal depression.
SAD primarily affects individuals between the ages of 18 and 30. This time in young adulthood often involves significant changes and transitions, which may potentially lead to the development of depression.
People who live farther from the equator may be more susceptible to developing SAD due to the more significant changes in daylight that they tend to experience. This may disrupt their circadian rhythms and lead to an imbalance in hormones like serotonin and melatonin, potentially contributing to seasonal depression.
Individuals with a history of depression or other mood disorders may have a higher risk of developing SAD. This could be due to a genetic predisposition or a history of negative thought patterns and behaviors, which could make them more susceptible to developing depression.
Possible Solutions For Seasonal Depression
If you suspect you might be living with seasonal depression, seeking assistance from a licensed healthcare or mental health provider can be crucial. They may diagnose your condition and recommend the most appropriate treatment. Some of the common treatment strategies for SAD can include those listed below.
Light therapy typically entails exposing yourself to bright light for a specific period of time each day. This may help control your circadian rhythm and enhance your mood. It can be particularly helpful for individuals who live in the northern climates, where there might be less sunlight. Light boxes should generally be used under the supervision of a healthcare provider to ensure their safety and effectiveness.
Medication may be effective in treating SAD, but it’s always best to consult your doctor regarding questions about medication and supplements.
Psychotherapy, or talk therapy, can help you better understand your feelings and behaviors and provide you with tools to manage them. Cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) is generally a type of psychotherapy that can be effective in treating SAD.
In addition to seeking professional help, there may be several lifestyle changes you can make to manage your seasonal depression.
- Exercise regularly: Exercise has often been shown to improve mood and reduce symptoms of depression.
- Get outside: Spending time outdoors in natural light may improve your mood and manage your circadian rhythm.
- Eat a healthy diet: Consuming a balanced diet rich in vitamins and minerals may boost your mood and energy levels.
- Practice good sleep hygiene: Sleeping enough and maintaining a consistent sleep schedule can alleviate depression symptoms.
- Connect with others: Social support is often crucial in managing depression, so staying connected with friends and family can be essential. Joining a support group or seeking help from a mental health professional may also be beneficial.
- Keep up with hobbies: Engaging in activities you enjoy can boost your mood, reduce symptoms of depression, and give you something to look forward to.
- Manage stress: Stress frequently worsens symptoms of depression, so it can be best to find healthy ways to manage stress, such as practicing mindfulness, meditation, and yoga.
Benefits Of Online Therapy
One significant benefit of online therapy may be that it can provide individuals with the tools to understand and manage their feelings and behaviors. This can be particularly relevant for individuals with seasonal depression, as they may experience a range of emotions and symptoms that can be difficult to cope with.
It can be particularly beneficial that individuals can attend online therapy from any location with an internet connection at a time that fits their schedule. When attempting to cope with SAD, it can be challenging to get ready and get out of the house to attend therapy sessions in person, so the opportunity to get help from home can be appealing.
Effectiveness Of Online Therapy
A 2019 study examined the efficacy of online therapy in treating depression and found that “depression symptom severity was significantly reduced after the use of the multimodal digital psychotherapy intervention.” In addition, the study noted that “users of BetterHelp experienced significantly reduced depression symptom severity after engaging with the platform.”
What month does SAD start?
Seasonal affective disorder (SAD) can be experienced any time of the year, including the spring and summer months, though it’s most associated with winter in more northern latitudes. Most cases of SAD begin when there is a reduction of sunlight in the autumn and winter, which can result in hormonal shifts as well as disrupting melatonin production. Depending on when it’s experienced, SAD can also be called “winter depression” or “summer depression.”
Is SAD the same as seasonal depression?
Seasonal depression and seasonal affective disorder are synonymous.
Is there a way to stop seasonal depression?
Seasonal depression can be managed and reduced with a variety of methods. Popular approaches included bright light therapy to stimulate vitamin D production, antidepressants like selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs), and getting daily exercise whenever possible to boost endorphins. Eating a healthy and balanced diet can make a difference, as well. Try to avoid very starchy and sweet foods, as these can further contribute to chemical imbalances and may thus exacerbate mental disorders such as SAD, anxiety, major depression, or bipolar disorder.
SAD often affects mood and sleep patterns, resulting in trouble sleeping. You may consider taking steps to ensure good sleep hygiene to reduce SAD symptoms, such as avoiding screens before bed and trying to go to bed and wake up around the same time each day.
Sometimes, the help of a doctor or mental health provider may be needed to alleviate and treat SAD.
Is seasonal depression a type of anxiety?
Seasonal depression is considered a depressive disorder, not an anxiety disorder, although symptoms of anxiety may be experienced during SAD episodes.
What is the main cause of seasonal depression?
Doctors and scientists still do not know the exact cause of seasonal depression. Believed factors include reduced sunlight levels, a family history or SAD or other depressive disorders, disruptions to the circadian rhythm as seasons change, serotonin levels, and melatonin levels. If you have other mental disorders such as major depressive disorder, you are also more likely to experience SAD.
How long does SAD last for?
The duration and severity of SAD depends on factors such as the individual’s age, location (living far from the equator), and levels of brain chemicals and vitamin D. Typically, though, SAD is experienced to varying degrees for months at a time until the seasons shift and may repeat in a seasonal pattern. If you experience summer SAD, symptoms will likely begin in early Summer and begin to dissipate as Fall approaches. Winter SAD symptoms, on the other hand, begin during late Fall or early Winter and dissolve with the onset of Spring and increased sunlight.
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