Experiencing decreased energy or feelings of hopelessness may be more than just the “winter blues”. Those feelings could be indicative of having Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD) and should not be ignored. Seasonal Affective Disorder is a form of depression that happens during specific times of the year, usually during the fall and winter. Symptoms can begin in the autumn and continue throughout the winter, only decreasing once the days get a little longer in the spring.
Causes of Seasonal Affective Disorder
While the exact causes of Seasonal Affective Disorder are unknown, there are some theories as to why many people feel down in the winter. Some factors contributing to the development of SAD are one’s biological clock, serotonin levels, and melatonin levels. Reduced amounts of sunlight can disrupt one’s circadian rhythm by causing changes in an individual’s internal clock, which sends signals of when to sleep and when to wake up. Additionally, less sunlight can cause a decline in one’s serotonin levels, a brain chemical that affects mood. Furthermore, changes of season can disrupt the balance of melatonin levels, the natural hormone that regulates sleep patterns and mood. All of these effects can lead to depression.
Symptoms of Seasonal Affective Disorder
There are many symptoms of Seasonal Affective Disorder, including difficulty concentrating, oversleeping, social withdrawal, and a loss of interest in activities that were once enjoyed. People with SAD may also experience depression, anxiety, and feelings of hopelessness as well as decreased energy and appetite changes with weight gain. Symptoms will usually begin in the fall, start mild and become more severe as the season progresses.
See a Doctor for Seasonal Affective Disorder
As with many illnesses, it can be difficult to know when to take a trip to the doctor. One should see their physician if experiencing changes in sleep patters and appetite. If one cannot get motivated to do activities that are normally enjoyed, is feeling down for days at a time, having feelings of hopelessness, or thoughts of suicide, he or she should make an appointment to see the doctor.
Treatments of Seasonal Affective Disorder
After visiting the doctor, a treatment plan can be determined. Treatments can consist of light therapy, psychotherapy, or medications. Those with bipolar should exercise caution when using light therapy as it can trigger a manic episode. Light therapy is intended to mimic sunlight and appears to cause changes in various brain chemicals that are linked to mood, such as serotonin. Light therapy is usually fast to take effect and has few side effects. There are also some home remedies for alleviating SAD symptoms. One can try to eat healthy foods, make the home environment brighter by opening window blinds and shades, going outside for walks, and getting regular exercise.
With all changes to one’s health or medical routine, anyone considering purchasing a light therapy box or other OTC remedies should consult with their physician before making any changes.