Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD)
Overview of Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD)
Seasonal affective disorder (SAD), also known as seasonal depression, is a type of depression with a recurring seasonal pattern. In most people with seasonal affective disorder, the symptoms come and go at the same time every year. SAD occurs with the season change, generally appearing in autumn or early winter and receding during sunny spring and summer days.
About 29 percent of the U.K population experiences symptoms of SAD each year, with women being 40 percent more likely to experience symptoms than men.
Seasonal affective disorder symptoms range from feeling lethargic (lacking energy) and losing interest in everyday activities to feelings of despair, worthlessness, and guilt. However, here are some other signs that you may experience if you suffer from the “winter blues”:
- Low self-respect
- A constant low mood and sadness
- Disturbance in a sleep cycle, from oversleeping to insomnia
- Feeling sleepy during the day
- Anxiety and tension
- Extreme fatigue
- Craving for sweet foods, overeating and/or weight gain
Specific, autumn/winter-related SAD symptoms may include:
- Having low energy
- Sleeping for longer than normal
- Appetite changes and weight gain
- Social withdrawing
Alternatively, less common spring-summer depression may include the following symptoms:
- Agitation, restlessness or anxiety
- Poor appetite and weight loss
Seasonal depression symptoms typically appear between 20 and 30 years of age. However, SAD symptoms may sometimes develop at an earlier age.
While the specific causes of SAD are still unknown, there are some risk factors that may lead to seasonal depression. These include having depression or bipolar disorder, circadian rhythm disruption caused by a decrease of sunlight during fall and winter, gender, family history of SAD, production of melatonin and serotonin in the body.
When to Seek Support
We all feel blue and lethargic from time to time. However, if you persistently experience a low mood that affects your ability to perform day-to-day activities, you may need to see your doctor.
Seasonal Affective Disorder Treatment
The most effective treatment options for seasonal affective disorder include psychotherapy, medication therapy, and light therapy. Depending on the severity and type of symptoms, different methods of SAD treatment may be used alone or in combination.
Talking therapies such as cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT) have proven to be effective in the treatment of seasonal affective disorder.
- Medication Therapy
Antidepressant medications like Selective Serotonin Reuptake Inhibitors (SSRIs) are used to treat seasonal affective disorder. However, talk to your health provider about the possible risks, as these antidepressants have certain side effects.
- Light Therapy
Light therapy has been widely used as a SAD treatment since the 1980s. This therapy method uses special light boxes that produce bright, artificial light, simulating exposure to sunlight.
In addition, lifestyle measures such as regular exercise, getting as much natural light as possible, eating nutritious food, and practicing mindfulness meditation have been proven to alleviate SAD symptoms.
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