For many of us, the winter months can be tough. The days are shorter, the weather is colder, and we may feel like we’re stuck in a rut. But for some people, the sadness goes beyond a mere case of the winter blues. Instead they find themselves struggling with the symptoms of a form of depression known as seasonal affective disorder, or SAD.
Read on for more information about seasonal affective disorder, its symptoms, and how to treat it.
What is Seasonal Affective Disorder?
SAD is a type of depression that occurs at the same time each year, typically starting in the fall and continuing into the winter months.
People with season affective disorder may experience symptoms such as fatigue, sadness, anxiety, social withdrawal, and difficulty concentrating.
While SAD can affect people of all ages, it’s most commonly seen in young adults between the ages of 18 and 30. Women are also more likely to experience SAD than men. People who have a family history of depression or other mood disorders may also be at increased risk for developing SAD.
What Causes Seasonal Affective Disorder?
The exact cause of seasonal affective disorder is unknown. However, it is thought to be related to changes in sunlight exposure and the body’s internal clock.
People with SAD may have a deficiency of serotonin, a brain chemical that helps regulate mood. This deficiency may be caused by reduced sunlight exposure during the fall and winter months.
Changes in the body’s internal clock may also play a role in the development of SAD. The shorter days and longer nights of winter can disrupt the body’s natural sleep-wake cycle, which can lead to feelings of fatigue and depression.
Seasonal Affective Disorder Symptoms
One of the most common symptoms of seasonal affective disorder (SAD) is feeling depressed most of the day, nearly every day. This can lead to a lack of interest in activities you once enjoyed, difficulty concentrating, changes in appetite, and social withdrawal. These feelings may be accompanied by low energy levels and an overwhelming sense of hopelessness or worthlessness.
People who are affected by seasonal affective disorder often experience disruption of their sleeping patterns. They may find it difficult to fall asleep and stay asleep during the night, waking up frequently or staying in bed long after they should have gotten out.
Daytime energy levels can also be affected due to lack of adequate sleep and people with SAD can feel lethargic or unmotivated throughout the day.
Low energy levels
A lack of sleep and the depressive symptoms experienced by people who have seasonal affective disorder are two major contributors to the low energy levels for people struggling with this condition.
People suffering from SAD often lack the energy necessary to complete daily tasks or even engage in hobbies that they may have enjoyed prior to the onset of symptoms.
Furthermore, a lack of motivation combined with fatigue can make it difficult for even simple activities such as getting out of bed or going outside.
People with seasonal affective disorder find it difficult to concentrate. Symptoms such as lack of energy, fatigue, low motivation and depression can make it difficult for a person to focus on any task or activity, leading to feelings of frustration or even hopelessness.
Difficulty concentrating is a common experience for those who suffer from SAD, making even the easiest tasks seem hard and time-consuming.
Appetite changes, especially a craving for sweets and carbs
People with seasonal affective disorder often experience changes in their appetite and can develop an increased craving for sweets and carbohydrates.
This is due to an imbalance of hormones caused by SAD, which can lead to a feeling of depression and anxiety. Eating sugary or carb-heavy foods may provide a temporary boost of energy, but it often does not last long.
The increased craving for sweet and carb-laden foods may provide a temporary boost of energy, but it is usually not sustainable. This type of diet combined with decreased physical activity due to fatigue, low motivation and depression can cause weight gain over time.
The cycle of unhealthy eating and weight gain, makes the depressive symptoms of people suffering from seasonal affective disorder worse, setting in motion a vicious cycle of unhealthy eating, weight gain and depression.
People suffering from seasonal affective disorder often withdraw from society due to feelings of fatigue, low motivation and depression. These symptoms can make interacting with others difficult and overwhelming, leading to a general lack of socialization.
Additionally, people with SAD become extremely sensitive to negative comments or judgment, particularly if they have gained weight, which further contributes to their desire to isolate themselves.
Who Is at Risk of Seasonal Affective Disorder?
Seasonal affective disorder is more common in women than men and typically begins in adulthood (although it can occur in children and adolescents).
People who live in northern climates where there is less sunlight during the winter months are at increased risk for developing SAD.
Other risk factors include having a family member with SAD or another form of depression and having a history of depressive episodes.
Treating Seasonal Affective Disorder
If you think you might be suffering from SAD, it’s important to talk to your doctor. He or she can help rule out other potential causes of your symptoms and make sure you’re getting the treatment you need. There are a number of different treatment options available for SAD, including light therapy, medications, and psychotherapy.
Light therapy involves sitting in front of a special light box for 30 minutes each day. The light box emits bright light that simulates natural sunlight. It is through that exposure to light helps regulate the body’s natural sleep-wake cycle and improve mood.
Medications prescribed for SAD include antidepressants such as selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs). These drugs help balance levels of serotonin in the brain, which can improve mood.
Another treatment option for SAD is psychotherapy. This type of therapy can help you identify negative thinking patterns and learn new ways to cope with stress and anxiety.
Seasonal affective disorder is a type of depression that occurs at the same time each year. It typically starts in the fall and continues into the winter months.
While the exact cause of SAD is unknown, it is believed to be related to changes in sunlight exposure and the body’s internal clock.
If you think you or someone you know may be suffering from SAD, it’s important to seek professional help as soon as possible so that treatment can begin. With treatment, most people with SAD are able to manage their symptoms and enjoy the winter months again.