Seasonal Affective Disorder

Woman with back turned in winter, suffering from Seasonal Affective Disorder

Symptoms and Common Treatments for SAD

Some of you might be feeling like your sunny dispositions have taken a vacation, and you may be right. How you feel may depend on where you live, and a few other factors. You may be experiencing Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD).

According to the Mayo Clinic, the symptoms of SAD include:

  • Feeling depressed on most days from early fall through early spring
  • Less interest in the activities you enjoy
  • Decreased energy
  • A disturbance in your sleep cycles
  • Weight gain or appetite changes
  • Irritability and difficulty concentrating

You may be surprised to learn that some folks experience Seasonal Affective Disorder year-round. Although in most cases, mild symptoms begin to occur in early fall and worsen over the winter and into early spring.

What Is Seasonal Affective Disorder?

One of the causes of SAD is a change in your normal circadian rhythm, also known as your biological clock. According to the Mayo Clinic, a decrease in the amount of sunlight you are exposed to each day can easily affect your normal sleep-wake cycle, leading to depression.

Many scientists feel that serotonin plays a role in SAD. Serotonin is a hormone and neurotransmitter responsible for many body functions, but it is most known as the “happy chemical” because of its role in mood regulation. Our bodies are dependent on this critical neurotransmitter. According to an article in the European Review for Medical and Pharmacological Sciences, if we have a problem synthesizing or metabolizing serotonin, we may deal with symptoms that include depression and compulsive disorders, as well as issues with our ability to learn.

Women experience SAD more often than men. Risk factors for SAD include age, family history, a previously diagnosed depression disorder, and proximity to the equator. Research has also shown that younger adults are more frequently diagnosed with SAD than older adults.

SAD can include many complications such as social isolation, substance abuse, work problems, mental health disorders including anxiety, and certain eating disorders.

What Can I Do If I Have Seasonal Affective Disorder?

What should you do if you suspect that you or a loved one is suffering from Seasonal Affective Disorder? First and foremost, it is important to realize everyone occasionally comes down with a case of the blues for a day or two. But, if you experience these symptoms for longer than a few days, you should seek medical care. Seeking treatment is especially important if you feel your sleep patterns or appetite have changed.

According to the European Review for Medical and Pharmacological Sciences, four of the most common treatments for SAD include light therapy, medication, psychotherapy, and vitamin D supplements. Light therapy has been recommended as a treatment for SAD since the early 1980s. During light therapy, you sit or work near a light box, which gives off a bright light that mimics natural outdoor light. This treatment is recommended for 20–60 minutes per day from early fall until late spring.

Medications approved by the FDA have also been prescribed to treat Seasonal Affective Disorder, particularly antidepressants called selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs). As with any medication, side effects can occur in some people. Some researchers have shown vitamin D to be an effective weapon, while other researchers have discounted its effectiveness. Before you take any medication or supplements, check with your doctor or a medical professional. If you are experiencing symptoms of SAD, or have any other health issues, seek the advice of a health care professional. You may benefit from early diagnosis.

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