Do the winter months get you down more than you think they should? Or do you get unusually agitated during the summer?
You might have seasonal affective disorder (SAD),a type of depression related to changes in seasons. You could be cheery in the spring then feel anxious or depressed when the winter months arrive. Depressive episodes in spring or summer can occur, but they are less common than winter episodes.
According to Psychology Today, SAD affects around 10 million Americans. The symptoms start between the age of 18 and 30, and the disorder affects more women than men.
Signs and Symptoms of SAD
Not everyone has the same symptoms of SAD, but the symptoms usually associated with the disorder include:
- Tendencies to oversleep
- Weight gain
- Low energy levels
- Thoughts of suicide
SAD is also marked by symptoms you’ll find in major depression, such as a loss of interest in activities, intense feelings of hopelessness, and physical problems like headaches and nausea.
These symptoms tend to happen at about the same time every year. SAD is usually mild or moderate, but some people experience symptoms severe enough to affect their quality of life.
Causes and Risk Factors
The specific cause of SAD remains unknown, but bodies of research point to these factors that may come into play:
- Your internal body clock. Reduced or increased levels of sunlight may upset your biological clock and lead to feelings of anxiety or depression.
- Melatonin levels. The change in weather may affect your melatonin levels, which plays a role in your mood and sleep patterns.
- Serotonin levels. The decrease in sunlight may cause a drop in serotonin, which affects mood, social behavior, and digestion.
The same report by Psychology Today pointed out that SAD affects more women than men. Other factors that may increase your risk of the disorder are:
- Family history of SAD
- Diagnosed with bipolar disorder or major depression
- Living far from the equator
Your symptoms will usually get better at the end of the season, but just like other types of depression, SAD can lead to greater problems if not properly treated.
Doctors and mental health professionals usually recommend one or a combination of these treatments:
- Change of Lifestyle
Small changes in your lifestyle can ease the symptoms of SAD. Get more natural light and exercise to boost your mood.
When going for a vacation in the winter, opt for places like Alaska that don’t go dark in the winter. Go on a vacation that includes eco tours and enjoy the outdoors.
- Light Therapy
Light treatment involves sitting in front of a light box each morning. This treatment continues until enough daylight is available, particularly during spring.
People with severe symptoms for SAD are prescribed antidepressants, which they have to take before their symptoms begin each year.
Psychotherapy, also known as cognitive behavioral therapy, can help you manage stress and learn healthy ways to cope with SAD.
SAD may occur during the change of season, but its effects should not be underestimated. If left untreated, it could affect your quality of life. Seek some help so that you enjoy your daily activities all year round.