If it’s not hard for you to imagine yourself feeling down on snowy or rainy days, you’re not alone. Many individuals note that their moods take a sharp dive when skies turn gloomy and temperatures drop. Besides feeling generally sad and uninterested in what usually brings them joy, these people may also find it hard to concentrate, suffer from fatigue, and experience an increase in hunger. All of these characteristics may point to a bout of seasonal depression. Learning the signs and symptoms of this type of depression and educating yourself on easy treatments can be the umbrella that guards you against the “winter blues.” Could you be suffering from seasonal affective disorder (SAD)?
What Is Seasonal Affective Disorder?
SAD is a type of seasonal depression that generally begins during autumn and winter and ends during the spring or summer. Though it’s less common, SAD symptoms can also present during the spring and summer. The exact cause of SAD is still being studied by researchers, but many agree that biological disruptions due to the change of seasons can play significant roles in the emergence of the disorder in patients. Generally, these disturbances can be noted and measured in circadian rhythms, serotonin levels, and melatonin levels. For many sufferers of SAD, biological disruptions can be traced back to a lack of sunlight; individuals who suffer from SAD during the spring and summer may find that their symptoms appear during periods of prolonged rain or at any time, if they live in regions with dreary climates.
Medical professionals consider SAD to be a disorder that falls under the umbrella of depression. Approximately 6% of the population of the United States suffers from the most intense form of SAD, and as many as 20% more people experience milder types of the disorder. SAD primarily affects women, and the first episode of the disorder usually occurs between the ages of 18 and 30. Individuals who have personal or family histories with mood disorders and who live in regions far away from the equator can be especially susceptible to SAD. Left untreated, the disorder can result in hospitalizations and suicide.
Signs and Symptoms
The symptoms of SAD can vary depending on the particular season in which the disorder presents itself in patients. For example, SAD sufferers who experience the onset of the disorder during months typically associated with snow can feel inclined to oversleep, crave carbohydrates that lead them to overeat, and experience fatigue and lethargy. In contrast, those who have SAD starting in summer months can have trouble sleeping, lose their appetites, and feel anxious or irritable. Both types of SAD make it difficult for the sufferer to concentrate and engender feelings of discontent that can result in unrestrained crying.
Bring the Sunshine Back
Since SAD can rain on social and professional lives, leading to loneliness, difficulty performing tasks, substance abuse, and the emergence of additional mental disorders, it is important to address symptoms as soon as they appear. Light therapy, medication, and psychotherapy have all been used in the treatment of SAD. Though each treatment course can be highly dependent on the individual, many patients find that a combination of antidepressants, talk therapy, and exposure to natural or artificial sunlight can work wonders for both their physical and mental states. Some patients have found success with simple lifestyle changes, like getting more exercise, eating a healthy diet full of lean protein, vegetables, and fruits, and supplementing with vitamin D and melatonin. These changes, combined with preventative treatments recommended by doctors, can significantly ease the burden of the seasonal blues.
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