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Seasonal Affective Disorder: How to Combat SAD in 2020

woman-suffering-from-seasonal-affective-disorder

Seasonal Affective Disorder: How to Combat SAD in 2020

As the seasons begin to change, it’s common to experience some “springtime sadness “ or the “winter blues.” Maybe you haven’t felt right since the time change and the days start getting shorter. If you think something could be wrong, you might be onto something. It’s a possibility you’re experiencing seasonal affective disorder (SAD), which is a form of depression that is initiated by a change in the seasons. 

The Mayo Clinic describes fatigue or moodiness accompanying those with seasonal affective disorder and that it’s most likely to develop in the fall and winter months. As the weather warms and we approach sunnier days and shorter nights, the symptoms should start to subside. Some may experience SAD symptoms in the spring or early summer, although this occurs much less frequently. The symptoms can be mild or severe.

If you feel you’re dealing with seasonal affective disorder, you may be experiencing some of the following symptoms:

  • Irritability
  • Low energy or feelings of sluggishness
  • Lacking interest in enjoyable activities or hobbies
  • Continuous days of depression
  • Inability to focus
  • Sleep issues
  • Feeling guilty or worthless
  • Changes in appetite or weight
  • Suicidal thoughts

Other common symptoms of SAD occur as winter begins, and they include:

  • Weight gain
  • Oversleeping
  • Cravings for carb-heavy foods
  • Low energy and fatigue

Those experiencing the condition during the spring or summer months may have insomnia, weight loss, poor appetite, agitation, or anxiety.

Fortunately, combatting the condition is possible, but the approaches will vary based on what symptoms the individual experiences. Depending on the disorder’s severity, a doctor might suggest medication, psychotherapy, or light therapy

What Causes Seasonal Affective Disorder and Who Has It?

Not everyone will develop seasonal affective disorder, but millions of people who do may not realize they have it, according to the National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH). The institute also mentions that the prevalence of SAD in women is much higher than in men who live in the northern regions of the United States. These areas have shorter daylight hours during winter.

It also mentions that SAD starts in young adults, and those with mental health disorders are more susceptible to having it. The condition is also said to run in families. 

Those with seasonal affective disorder may also experience:

  • Bipolar disorder (particularly bipolar II disorder)
  • Major depressive disorder
  • Panic disorder
  • Eating disorders
  • Attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder
  • Anxiety disorder

At this point, scientists still aren’t fully aware of what causes the condition. There are several factors that play a role, which include:

  • Melatonin levels: Melatonin is a hormone that our bodies produce to establish sleep patterns. The production and release of the hormone are connected to the time of day, increasing in the dark and decreasing in the light. When the seasons start to change, it disrupts melatonin, which may lead to a person feeling sluggish and tired. 
  • Circadian rhythms: A reduction in sunlight in the fall and winter disrupts our internal clocks, triggering depression in those susceptible to SAD.
  • Serotonin levels: Serotonin is another natural chemical our bodies produce that affects mood. With a reduction in sunlight and natural light, it can make serotonin levels drop. Scientists suggest lower levels of serotonin trigger depression.

Changes in serotonin and melatonin levels produce unique challenges in those trying to adjust to the changes outside. When you feel a lack of control over seasonal changes, you’ll start to associate certain times of the year with negative feelings, stress, and an inability to cope. It will make it more challenging to manage your daily life. 

How Is SAD Diagnosed?

If you’re concerned about SAD symptoms in yourself or a loved one, it could warrant a trip to your physician or a mental health professional for an examination. During this assessment, the healthcare provider will perform a physical exam and ask various questions regarding your health and mental health history.

woman-with-seasonal-affective-order-stairs-out-into-snow

In addition to the physical, they may expect you to undergo a blood test, known as a complete blood count or CBC. You could also undergo lab testing to check for thyroid issues or be asked to take a physiological screening for depression. The healthcare provider might also check the American Psychiatric Association’s Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders to determine if your symptoms align with those of seasonal depression. 

Based on your results, the treating physician can then recommend the best approach to treat you. 

Professional Treatment for SAD

For some, they may not consider season depression as something serious since it’s not permanent. However, SAD is a cyclic condition, meaning it happens often enough to receive appropriate attention. Tending to our mental health needs is essential because it affects our day-to-day routines. Seasonal affective disorder may be severe in some cases that require immediate professional treatment, but others may experience milder symptoms.

There are several methods to address seasonal affective disorder, and a combination of these could be prescribed to you, but in some cases, it may only be one. You may receive psychotherapy, light therapy, Vitamin D, and medications for your depression. 

Psychotherapy

Psychotherapy requires you to sit with a mental health professional to help you understand the root causes of your depression and other issues. Cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT) is a commonly used therapy to help identify negative thoughts that cause negative behaviors. It will also help you to learn positive coping strategies and tools to help you healthily address seasonal depression. 

Light Therapy

Light therapy is a process of exposing those with SAD to bright light for 30 to 45 minutes each day. It helps to supplement the amount of natural light received in the winter months when the days are shorter. The lightboxes they use are 20 times brighter than indoor light, and they filter out damaging UV light, which makes it a safe treatment for the majority. 

Medications

Your healthcare provider has the power to prescribe antidepressant medications to help an individual with seasonal depression. The drugs range from citalopram, fluoxetine, paroxetine, sertraline, and escitalopram. It may take a while before noticing the medicine’s effectiveness, and you must speak with your doctor to see what’s best for you. 

If medication works for you, the doctor might recommend antidepressant treatment before the onset of your symptoms. You may be instructed to continue taking these medications after your symptoms disappear.

Vitamin D Supplements

If you lack Vitamin D, your doctor might prescribe a supplement that increases the production of it in your system. These supplements have shown mixed results but speak with your physician to determine if this approach could help with your symptoms. 

SAD and Substance Use Disorders

Suppose you’re struggling with going to school or work, becoming withdrawn, and can’t handle your daily responsibilities. In that case, you must consider seeing a mental health professional that will guide you to the right treatment. Seasonal affective disorder may also cause a person to abuse substances like drugs or alcohol to help them cope with their condition. This is known as self-medicating. 

Self-medication is a widespread issue that can be dangerous. Some individuals may be unaware they have a disorder because it hasn’t been formally diagnosed, while others understand their condition and address it in a manner they see fit. These are both unhealthy ways to handle the issue at hand. 

If you are struggling with seasonal affective disorder and substance abuse, you should consider enrolling in addiction treatment to help you overcome both disorders. Programs that treat both conditions simultaneously is your best option for recovery.

Author

Alyssa Harbina

DELPHI BEHAVIORAL
HEALTH GROUP

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