Seasonal depression or seasonal affective disorder (SAD) is a sub-type of depression related to the change of seasons. The symptoms of most people start in the fall and continue through winter but others have the opposite cycle with the blues starting in spring and lasting through the summer.
- Feelings of hopelessness, worthlessness, or depression
- Low energy
- Lost of interest in activities one would normally enjoy
- Sleeping problems
- Changes in appetite
- Weight fluctuation (weight gain in the winter vs weight loss in the summer)
- Feelings of sluggishness or agitation
- Concentration difficulties
- Frequent thoughts of death or suicide
Symptoms specific to winter-onset SAD include problems getting along with people, hypersensitivity to rejection, oversleeping, craving food and weight gain, and heavy feeling in the arms or legs.
Symptoms specific to summer-onset SAD include insomnia, poor appetite and weight loss, agitation or anxiety.
The exact causes of seasonal affective disorder remain unknown but there are some factors that could play a role.
- The decrease of sunlight in fall and winter may disrupt your biological clock or circadian rhythm.
- A drop in the neurotransmitter serotonin because of reduced sunlight
- Disruption in the levels of melatonin in the body
- More women than men suffer from SAD but men have more severe symptoms
- Young people have a higher risk of suffering from winter SAD than older people
- A family history of SAD or other forms of depression
- Suffering from clinical depression or bipolar disorder
Professional treatment includes phototherapy (light therapy), psychotherapy and medications. If your symptoms are not severe you may make a few changes in your lifestyle to cope with SAD.
- Make your house or environment brighter by opening blinds, trimming tree branches and sitting closer to bright windows.
- Go outside for a long walk or to sit in the sun. Even if it’s cloudy or cold you can benefit from spending some time outside within 2 hours of waking up.
- Exercise regularly to relieve stress and anxiety and decrease your SAD symptoms.
- Yoga, meditation, and acupuncture may also help.
- Consuming foods rich in Omega-3 may decrease levels of depression. These include salmon, flaxseeds and walnuts.
If you or someone you know has any of the following symptoms consult with a doctor immediately
- Suicidal thoughts or behavior
- Social withdrawal
- Problems at school or work
- Substance abuse including resorting to alcohol for comfort
- A change in sleep patterns and appetite