As the seasons change, temperatures begin to drop and the sun begins to set earlier. A percentage of the population will begin to experience symptoms of Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD). If you are one of these individuals, it’s important to visit your physician to identify the symptoms, educate yourself about the disorder, and be proactive in treatment for your care.
Seasonal Affective Disorder
SAD is caused by a hormonal imbalance that leads to periods of depression, often during the winter months. The shorter days and colder temperatures lead to a delayed response from the brain in the morning because the sun isn’t as bright or up as early. This causes the brain’s internal clock to be out of calibration, which means melatonin cycles from the night before continuing into the morning. Limited exposure to sunlight also reduces the body’s production of serotonin which is responsible for regulating mood and the feeling of happiness.
Symptoms of SAD
Seasonal Affective Disorder is most commonly experienced in fall and winter months. Alternatively, and less often, people experience the opposite cycle with symptoms in the spring and summer. These are the symptoms of SAD to take note of:
- Oversleeping or difficulty sleeping
- Drowsiness and low energy levels
- Feelings of depression and despair
- Changes in appetite, especially with cravings of carbohydrates
- Weight gain
- Loss of previous interests
- Suicidal thoughts
- Difficulties concentrating
Complications of SAD
It is important to seek treatment for complications of SAD since it can have serious life-altering effects which include:
- Suicidal thoughts
- Substance abuse
- Poor work performance
- Loss of social community
Treatment Options for SAD
It’s is always recommended to communicate with your physician when in need of medical advice. They will be able to identify if there are other causes for your symptoms and can help to establish the best method of care. They may advocate for psychotherapy and or medication. They may also recommend practice of the following:
Even if you have to adjust your daily schedule, make sure that you're getting the recommended amount of sleep each night. Another option is to wake up a little bit earlier than you usually would so your brain has more time to soak in more natural light. Getting the right amount of sleep is crucial to physical and mental health and will keep you focused and energized.
Utilize a Light Box
Living further from the equator increases your risk for SAD, since some northern areas do not experience sunrise until 9 am. Using a light box that provides up to 10,000 lux of illumination for 30 minutes a day can help. This is known as light therapy. You can put it in your home office or on your kitchen table. This is the best way to simulate natural light in the morning when the sun hasn't risen. The light is intended to stave off feelings of lethargy and fatigue and can help sync your brain's internal clock.
Eat a Nutritious Diet
A nutritious diet can fix and prevent many health problems, and it is powerful tool for fighting SAD. Make sure that you're eating the recommended servings of fruits and vegetables, whole grains, and calcium to help increase your energy levels.