Healthy Living

What Is Seasonal Affective Disorder?

What Is Seasonal Affective Disorder?

Key Takeaways

  • Seasonal Affective Disorder or SAD is a type of depression that comes and goes in a seasonal pattern.
  • Seasonal affective disorder has various available treatment programs which are recommended by a mental or medical health provider. 
  • Occasional lifestyle changes can work wonders for people suffering from SAD. 

Seasonal Affective Disorder or SAD is a type of depression that comes and goes in a seasonal pattern.  It is a type of depression that starts during the months of winter usually stemming from low natural sunlight and is often lifted in the months of summer or spring.  The symptoms often begin in the autumn as the days start getting shorter.  They are typically most severe during cold months such as December, January and February.  Seasonal affective disorder often begins and disappears in the spring and summer although it may return each autumn and winter in a repetitive pattern. 

In most cases, the symptoms of seasonal affective disorder appear during the late fall or early winter and go away during the sunnier days of spring and summer.  However, there are several cases in which some people begin to exhibit symptoms in spring or summer.  In both seasonal patterns, symptoms may start out mild and become more severe as the season progresses.  Symptoms of major depression may be part of seasonal affective disorder as it is considered as a sub type which appears and leaves based on the seasons.  

The symptoms of major depression associated with seasonal affective disorder are as follows:

  • Feeling hopeless or worthless
  • Having low energy
  • Losing interest in activities the person once enjoyed
  • Having problems with sleep
  • Experiencing changes in appetite or weight
  • Feeling sluggish or agitated
  • Having difficulty concentrating
  • Having frequent thoughts of death or suicidal intentions

The symptoms specific to winter-onset seasonal affective disorder are:

  • Irritability
  • Tiredness or low energy
  • Problems getting along with other people
  • Hypersensitivity to rejection
  • Heavy, ‘leaden’ feeling in the arms or legs
  • Oversleeping
  • Appetite changes especially a craving for foods high in carbohydrates
  • Weight gain  

The symptoms specific to summer-onset seasonal affective disorder are:

  • Depression
  • Trouble sleeping or insomnia
  • Weight loss
  • Poor appetite
  • Agitation or anxiety 

Although the exact cause to the development of seasonal affective disorder is not yet known, the main theory is that the lack of sunlight might be preventing a part of the brain called hypothalamus from working properly which has an impact on other bodily functions.  First, it affects the production of melatonin, a hormone which makes a person feel sleepy. In individuals with SAD, the body may produce it in higher levels.  Second, it also affects the production of serotonin, a hormone which is responsible for a person’s mood, appetite and sleep. The lack of sunlight may lead to lower serotonin levels which is linked to feelings of depression.  The lack of sunlight affects the body’s internal clock such as the sense or the time of being awake. 

Seasonal affective disorder has various available treatment programs which are recommended by a mental or medical health provider.  Main treatments include lifestyle measures, light therapy, talking therapies and antidepressants.  Lifestyle measures include getting as much natural sunlight as possible, exercising regularly and managing personal stress levels.  Light therapy includes the use of a special lamp called a light box to stimulate the exposure to sunlight.  Talking therapies or suggested psychotherapies include cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) or counseling.  Antidepressant medications such as selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs) are also used to treat this condition.

Understanding Seasonal Affective Disorder

Understanding about seasonal affective disorder can help the patient deal it in a better manner. Hence knowing the symptoms, manifestations and consequences is essential. It usually occurs when the warmth of the summer leaves you for a prolonged period while you crave for a glimpse of the sun as you experience the cold and feel depressed to a certain extent. Seasonal affective disorder, as the name indicates, is seasonal and revolves around the seasons of the year. It could affect a person in several ways. It is characterized by dullness often causing irritation, depression and lack of interest in the surroundings.

One must be healthy to stay fit. In this case, we are referring to physical and mental health, both of which are equally important. Moving out of the house, having a change in the environment, planning a short trip to a summer land by the sun and beach, interacting with more people and not confining yourself to boundaries are some of the ways that you can help yourself. Occasional lifestyle changes can work wonders for people suffering from SAD. Resorting to alternative measures like cutting oneself off completely from others, indulging in alcohol and smoking cause severe problems later on. Thus, taking small steps right from beginning is the best way of fighting and winning over the condition before it starts ruling you.


Dealing with the Disorder

Though there are environmental factors, sometimes it is more likely to be affected if the individual has a family history of seasonal affective disorder. Apart from this, the levels of melatonin and serotonin in the body affect the condition to a larger extent. It is important to keep yourself pumped up and happy despite the drop in levels of sunlight recieved. To put in simple terms, when the weather is cloudy or gloomy, one tends to feel gloomy and not so bright. This is understandable. In some cases, this feeling culminates into bigger problems if left unattended. Seeking medical care, counseling and self-dealing can help in overcoming this situation to a great extent. Since it is an illness related to one’s mood, let it not develop into something bigger and scarier thereby causing physical problems due to lack of mobility, less sun exposure and confinement. Nothing is more crucial than mental health as it could lead to a collapse of physical health. Take help from your loved ones if needed. Do not hesitate to explain the matter and try dealing it in a positive manner. Staying in synchronization with your body, getting the necessary aid, taking medication on time, being active and leading a normal life go a long way in keeping one healthy and free from ailments.

Knowing about this disorder is vital. Confiding with loved ones is extremely important. Hence do not be afraid to talk about it if you feel as if something is not right.