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Seasonal affective disorder is one of the more serious mental health conditions that affect millions of people every year. With the change in weather during the winter months and a decrease in daylight hours, many experience sad emotions that range from anxiety to depression to an increase in their Bipolar or OCD symptoms.
Though a lot of people feel the “winter blues” as the winter months drag on, it’s not the same as suffering from Seasonal Affective Disorder. Here’s what we know about this health topic and how to fight it this seasonal pattern of depression.
What is Seasonal Affective Disorder?
Seasonal affective disorder or SAD is a form of depression that is concurrent with a change in seasons.
For most patients, it begins and ends around the same point of time every year. For most individuals, symptoms begin to arise during the late fall and progressively become worse as the winter approaches. Most people tend to suffer the most after the holiday season, as the holidays provide somewhat of a distraction from depression symptoms.
What are the Signs/Symptoms?
According to the National Institute of Health, SAD symptoms include-
Major depressive disorder or an increase in depression every day
Losing interest in hobbies or regular activities
Weight loss or weight gain
Feeling exhausted or anxious and agitated
Worthlessness and hopeless
Frequent thoughts of suicide or death
For those who experience SAD and also suffer from bipolar disorder or other mental illnesses, they may see a spike in symptoms. These individuals need to seek help as treatment usually requires medication and therapy.
What are the Causes of SAD?
Though psychologists are not certain as to what causes SAD, there is an agreement in the medical community that there are common factors, including-
Biological Clock – A reduction in sunlight may contribute to a disruption in one’s internal clock and lead to feelings of depression.
Serotonin Levels – A reduction in sunlight can cause a drop in serotonin levels during the winter months. This can trigger depressive symptoms in many people.
Melatonin Levels – A change in season can affect the body’s production of melatonin, affecting sleep and causing mood swings.
How is SAD Treated?
Mental health professionals and the National Institute of Mental Health typically advise patients to perform the following to ease their symptoms of SAD-
Regular Exercise– Simple walks or other exercises like yoga can help ease symptoms of depression by generating endorphins that positively affect mood.
Bright light or lightbox – Many patients lay under red light or buy a lightbox to help lighten their mood. Light can boost serotonin levels and help ease winter depression.
Antidepressant Medications – If symptoms are severe, medications can help prevent depressive episodes from occurring. The patient may take the anti-depressant only during the seasons when he/she is affected by symptoms.
Find Doctor– Consider talk therapy or a doctor to identify and fight negative thinking patterns, learn healthy coping mechanisms, and find ways to cope with stress.
Improve the Mind-Body Connection – Utilize relaxation techniques, meditation, art therapy, or other self-care methods to decrease stress and ease major depression.
Travel – If safe, it may be beneficial to move or travel to a location with warmer weather. Florida and California are two states that provide a warmer climate during the winter as well as the summer months.
Are you struggling with Seasonal Affective Disorder? If so, please contact Straight Talk Counseling at 714-828-2000 or visit our website at straighttalkcounseling.org. One of our professional counselors would be happy to speak with you.