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Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD)

What is it? Common Symptoms? How is it treated?

What is it?

Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD) is commonly known as seasonal depression and typically occurs at specific times in the year. During the fall and winter months the daylight hours are shorter and depressive symptoms can increase for some. Symptoms can look like low mood, lack of energy, and changes in our sleep and eating patterns. Seasonal Affective disorder is related to reduced exposure to natural light which can disrupt our circadian rhythms.

The science

Circadian rhythm is our natural and internal biological clock that regulates different physiological processes. This includes things like sleep-wake cycle, our body temperature, and release of certain hormones in our body. It plays a large part in maintaining our overall health and well-being. The circadian rhythm is tied to the production of the neurotransmitter’s serotonin and melatonin.

Serotonin is an important chemical substance that plays a big role in transmitting signals in the brain and throughout the nervous system. Serotonin signals are important in regulating mood, emotions, and overall well-being. It’s known as the “feel good” transmitter because it helps to stabilize our mood and promote happiness. Melatonin, on the other hand is a hormone that is produced in our brain which is also regulated by the circadian rhythm. It plays a big role in regulating sleep-wake cycles, and helps our body prepare for sleep. Melatonin is triggered by darkness, and it is essential for healthy sleep, restful sleep.

So, why is it important to know this? Because in the context of seasonal affective disorder, fluctuations in serotonin and melatonin can significantly impact the way we feel. More specifically, it can result in depressive symptoms that typically occur more in the fall and winter months when we have less exposure to natural light like the sun.

Common Symptoms

1. Depressed Mood: persistent feelings of sadness, hopelessness & a general low mood.

2. Lack of Energy: Fatigue, low energy levels, and a sense of heaviness.

3. Sleep changes: increased sleep (hypersomnia) or difficulty sleeping (insomnia)

4. Appetite changes: increased appetite and cravings, particularly for carbohydrates

5. Irritability: increase irritability or difficulty concentrating

6. Loss of interest: decreased interest in activities or hobbies that usually you enjoy.

7. Withdrawal: social withdrawal and a desire to spend more time alone

8. Difficulty concentrating problems with focus, memory, and decision-making.

9. Physical symptoms: physical symptoms like aches, pains, and heaviness in limbs

10. Feelings of hopelessness: feeling a sense of hopelessness or worthlessness.

11. Suicidal thoughts: in severe cases, thoughts of self-harm or suicide

These symptoms in relation to SAD tend to follow a seasonal pattern and recur in fall and winter while improving in the spring and summer when there is more exposure to natural light. If you suspect that you may be experiencing symptoms of depression, it’s important to seek professional help. A mental health professional can provide a proper diagnosis, offer treatment options, and provide guidance in creating a plan to manage symptoms.

Treatment Options

1. Light Therapy, involves exposure to bright light that mimics natural sunlight. This has been proven to help regulate the body’s circadian rhythm and improve mood. This is typically done in the morning and requires the use of a lightbox (also known as happy light) designed for this purpose. You can find these on sites like Amazon.

2. Psychotherapy, Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT) and other forms of psychotherapy may be helpful for individuals to learn coping strategies and cognitive skills to manage SAD symptoms.

3. Medication, in some cases healthcare providers may prescribe antidepressant medications to help manage the symptoms of SAD. If you think this might be beneficial for you, please talk with your medical provider.

4. Lifestyle Changes, which include spending more time outdoors during daylight hours, getting regular exercise, eating a healthier diet, and making sure that your home and workspace receive plenty of natural light.

5. Dawn Simulators, these kinds of devices gradually increase the light in the morning to stimulate a natural sunrise. This can help regulate your circadian rhythm. You can buy Dawn Stimulators on sites like Amazon.

6. Mindfulness & Meditation, these sorts of practices can help you to manage stress and improve your overall emotional well-being. You can find guided practices on phone applications like calm and headspace as well as Tik Tok and YouTube.

7. Vitamin D Supplements, some individuals who suffer from SAD have lower levels of vitamin D. You can find this out by working with your medical provider.

The list of symptoms provided is not a substitute for an official diagnosis or consultation with a mental health provider, but rather serves as general information about Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD). If you or someone you know is experiencing symptoms of depression, it is essential to seek professional evaluation and guidance for an accurate diagnosis and appropriate treatment. Additionally, it's crucial to emphasize that if anyone is struggling with thoughts of self-harm or suicide, they should seek immediate help. Suicidal thoughts are a serious concern, and there are mental health professionals and crisis hotlines available to provide support and assistance in times of crisis. Your mental health and well-being are of utmost importance, and there is help and hope available to you or anyone in need. Please reach out to a mental health provider or a crisis helpline for immediate assistance if you or someone you know is experiencing suicidal thoughts.

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