If you’re constantly feeling sad whenever winter arrives, you might have Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD). SAD is a form of depression caused by changes in season. If you’ve heard of the term “winter blues”, you probably have an idea about this psychological condition. Most people who suffer from this condition experience severe depression during the late fall up to winter time. Only a minimum number get depressed during spring or summer. This condition is most common among young adult women. In North America, it affects 6 out of 100 people.
Causes of SAD
The exact cause of SAD is not known. However, medical researchers theorize that the chemical changes in the brain caused by reduced sunlight may be the reason of the onset of depression. People who live in geographical locations where there is little or no sunlight are more prone to this condition. It may also be caused by genetic factors. Some experts believe that this form of depression runs in the family.
Signs and Symptoms
Symptoms of SAD are similar to the general form of depression. People who are suffering from this condition typically experience depressed mood, loss of interest in social activities and favorite hobbies, isolation, fatigue, loss of energy, feelings of hopelessness or worthlessness, and suicidal thoughts or attempts. For most people, the symptoms emerge during the same time every year, establishing a familiar cycle pattern. Like most types of depression, SAD also affects a person’s quality of life, hindering her from engaging in activities and impairing relationships with family and friends.
Symptoms may also vary per season. For example, if a person experiences this condition during wintertime, she would be sleeping a lot, craving for sugary and starchy foods, consuming alcohol, feeling irritable, and gaining weight. Those who experience SAD during the summer suffer from weight loss, insomnia, poor appetite, agitation, and anxiety.
For the common form of SAD, which is winter depression, the most frequently used treatment method is the bright-light therapy, which involves exposure to bright artificial light. It is effective in relieving symptoms for about two thirds of people suffering from this condition. A 30-minute daily exposure to a 10,000 lux of bright light therapy device each day can alleviate depression symptoms. Bright light therapy products may be purchased at $200 to $500. These devices include visors, light panels, light boxes, and blankets.
As for prevention, spending at least 30 minutes of your day outdoors can help prevent the onset of this type of depression. Prevention ultimately begins within one’s self. It’s important to maintain a positive outlook in life to reduce the tendency of succumbing to this disorder. Plan for activities that you enjoy, go out with friends, and find time for relaxation activities. It would also be a good idea to exercise regularly since physical activity triggers the release of endorphins and serotonin, which are feel-good brain chemicals that are effective for mood boost.