Seasonal affective disorder is a type of depression associated with changes in the seasons – SAD begins and ends at about the same time each year. If you’re like most people with SAD, your symptoms start in the fall and continue in the winter months, undermining your energy and making you feel moody. Less frequently, SAD causes depression in the spring or early summer.
SAD Treatment may include light therapy, psychotherapy, and medications.
Do not dismiss that once a year, feeling like a case of the “winter blues” or a seasonal funk that you have to endure on your own. Instead, take measures to keep your mood and motivation steady throughout the year.
Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD) Symptoms
In most cases, the symptoms of the seasonal affective disorder occur during the late fall or early winter and go for sunny days of spring and summer. However, some people have a pattern of opposite symptoms that begin in spring or summer. In either case, the symptoms can be soft and become more severe as the season progressed.
Seasonal affective disorder is a subtype of major depression that comes and goes based on the seasons, thus, the symptoms of major depression may be part of the SAD, such as:
- depressed most of the day, nearly every day
- Feeling hopeless or worthless
- With low energy
- Loss of interest in activities you once enjoyed
- Having problems with sleep
- Experience changes in your appetite or weight
- Feeling sluggish or mixed
- Having difficulty concentrating
- With frequent thoughts of death or suicide
Autumn and winter SAD
Symptoms typical of winter revealed sad, sometimes called winter depression, may include:
- Fatigue or low energy
- Problems getting along with other people
- Increased sensitivity to rejection
- Heavy, ‘lead’ feeling in the arms or legs
- Appetite changes, especially craving foods high in carbohydrates
- Weight Gain
Spring and summer SAD.
Symptoms typical of summer and the beginning of seasonal affective disorder, sometimes called summer depression may include:
- Sleeping problems
- Weight loss
- Poor appetite
- Agitation or anxiety
Seasonal changes in bipolar disorder
For some people with bipolar disorder, the spring and summer can cause symptoms of mania or a less intense form of focus, and autumn and winter can be a time of depression.
When to see a doctor
It is normal to have some days when you feel down. But if you feel down for days at a time and can not get motivated to do activities you usually enjoy, see your doctor. Especially important if your sleep patterns and appetite have changed or you feel hopeless, think about suicide, or turn to alcohol for comfort and relaxation.
Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD) Causes
The specific cause of seasonal affective disorder remains unknown. Some factors that may join the game include:
- Your biological clock – Reducing the level of sunlight in autumn and winter can lead to winter and the beginning of SAD. This decrease in sunlight may break your body’s internal clock and can lead to feelings of depression.
- The serotonin levels – Reduced serotonin, a brain chemical that affects mood, can play a role in SAD. For example, reduced sunlight may reduce serotonin that can cause depression.
- Melatonin levels – Changing seasons can disrupt the balance of the body levels of melatonin, which plays a role in sleep patterns and mood.
Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD) Risk Factors
Factors that may increase the risk of seasonal affective disorder include:
- Being a woman – SAD is diagnosed more often in women than in men, but men may have more severe symptoms.
- Age – Young people have a higher risk of winter SAD; SAD and winter are less likely in older people.
- Family history – People with SAD may be more likely to have blood relatives with SAD or another form of depression.
- The presence of clinical depression or bipolar disorder – Symptoms of depression may worsen seasonal if you have any of these conditions.
- Living far from the equator – SAD is more common among people who live far north or south of the equator. This may be due to a decrease of sunlight during the winter days or more during the summer months.
Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD) Tests and diagnosis
To help diagnose seasonal affective disorder, your doctor or mental health provider can make a thorough assessment, which usually includes:
- Physical exam
Your doctor may do a physical exam and ask in-depth questions about your health. In some cases, depression can be associated with a significant problem of physical fitness.
- Laboratory tests
For example, your doctor may do a complete blood count or check your thyroid to ensure it is functioning correctly.
- Psychological evaluation
to check for signs of depression, your doctor or mental health provider asks about your symptoms, thoughts, feelings, and behaviors. Your doctor may have you fill out a questionnaire to help answer these questions.
The seasonal affective disorder is considered a subtype of major depression or bipolar disorder. Unfortunately, even with careful evaluation, it can sometimes be difficult for your doctor or mental health provider the diagnose the SAD because other types of depression or other mental health conditions can cause similar symptoms.
Many psychiatrists use the criteria in the Guide to the Diagnostic and Statistical Mental Disorders, published by the American Psychiatric Association, to diagnose mental conditions. Insurance companies also use this guide to reimburse for treatment.
DSM-5 criteria for the diagnosis of depression with seasonality includes such experience, at least for the last two years:
- Depression that starts during a particular season every year
- Depression that ends during a specific season every year
- No episodes of depression during the season in which you are experiencing everyday mood
- Many more seasons depressed than nondepressed seasons for the duration of your illness services
Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD) Treatments and drugs
Treatment for seasonal affective disorder may include light therapy, medications, and psychotherapy. If you have bipolar disorder, tell your doctor – it is essential to know when the appointment of light therapy or antidepressants. Both treatments can potentially cause a manic episode.
- Light therapy
In light therapy, also called phototherapy, you sit a few feet from a special light therapy box to be exposed to bright light. Light therapy mimics natural light outdoors and appears to change brain chemicals associated with mood.
Light therapy is one of the first treatment lines for the autumn and the beginning of SAD. Typically, it begins to work within a few days to two weeks and causes few side effects. The study of light therapy is limited, but it has been effective for most people in alleviating the symptoms of SAD.
Before you purchase a light box therapy, talk with your doctor about the best for you, and become familiar with a variety of features and options, so that you are buying a high-quality product that is safe and effective.
Some people who suffer from SAD benefit from treatment with antidepressants, especially if symptoms are severe.
An evaluation version of the extended-release antidepressant bupropion may help prevent depressive episodes in people with a SAD history. Other antidepressants may also be used generally for the treatment of SAD.
Your doctor may recommend starting treatment with an antidepressant before your symptoms usually begin each year. They may also recommend that you continue taking an antidepressant in the time your symptoms typically go away.
Keep in mind that it may take several weeks to notice the full benefit of an antidepressant. In addition, you may need to try different medications before you find one that works well for you and has the fewest side effects.
Psychotherapy, also known as talk therapy, is another option for the treatment of SAD, Psychotherapy can help you:
- Define and change negative thoughts and behaviors that may be making you feel worse
- Learn healthy ways to cope with SAD
- Learn how to cope with stress
Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD) Lifestyle and home remedies
In addition to your plan of treatment of seasonal affective disorder, try the following:
- Make your environment sunnier and brighter – Open blinds, trim tree branches that block sunlight, or add skylights in your home. Sit closer to bright windows while at home or in the office.
- Get outside – Take a long walk, have lunch at a nearby park, or just sit on a bench and soak up the sun. Even on cold or cloudy days, outdoor light can help – especially if you spend some time outside within two hours of getting up in the morning
- Exercise regularly – Exercise and other types .. physical activity can help relieve stress and anxiety, both of which can increase the symptoms of SAD. Being more fit can make you feel better about yourself, too, that can lift your mood.
Coping and support
These steps can help you manage seasonal affective disorder:
- Stick to your treatment plan – take medications as directed and attend therapy appointments on schedule
- Take care of yourself – Get enough rest and take time to relax. Take part in the exercise program or participate in any other form of regular physical activity. Make healthy choices for meals and snacks. Do not turn to alcohol or illicit drugs for relief.
- Practice stress management – Additional methods to manage your stress better. Unmanaged stress can lead to depression, overeating, and other unhealthy thoughts and behaviors.
- Socialize – When you’re feeling down, it can be hard to be social. Make an effort to connect with people you enjoy being around. They can offer support, a shoulder to cry or joke, to give you a little boost.
- Take a trip – If possible, take a winter vacation in a sunny, warm place if you have winter SAD or in a cool place if you have summer SAD.
Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD) Complications
Take seasonal affective disorder signs and symptoms seriously. As with other types of depression, SAD may deteriorate and lead to problems if it is not treated. These may include:
- Suicidal thoughts or behavior
- School or work problems
Treatment may help prevent the development of complications, especially if the SAD is diagnosed and treated before symptoms get bad.
Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD) Prevention
There is no known way to prevent the development of the seasonal affective disorder. However, if you take steps early on to cope with the symptoms, you may be able to prevent them from becoming worse over time.
Some people find it helpful to begin treatment before the onset of symptoms, usually start in the fall or winter, and then continue therapy in the past time; the symptoms typically go away. Other people require ongoing treatment to prevent the return of symptoms.
If you can gain control over their symptoms before they get worse, you may be able to prevent severe mood changes, appetite, and energy levels.