SAD – Seasonal Affective Disorder
Many of us experience the “Winter Blues,” depression, the desire (and sometimes the act) of wanting to eat an entire pocket of potatoes and generally not feeling ourselves – for most us, these are symptoms are indicative of SAD – Seasonal Affective Disorder. (so yes, it’s not just you!)
What is Seasonal Affective Disorder?
Seasonal affective disorder (SAD), also known as winter depression, winter blues, summer depression, summer blues, or seasonal depression. It is a mood disorder in which people who have normal mental health throughout most of the year experience depressive symptoms in the winter or summer. -1
What Causes Seasonal Affective Disorder?
While we don’t know the exact causes of SAD, some scientists think that certain hormones made deep in the brain trigger attitude-related changes at certain times of year. Experts believe that SAD may be related to these hormonal changes. One theory is that less sunlight during fall and winter leads to the brain making less serotonin, a chemical linked to brain pathways that regulate mood. When nerve cell pathways in the brain that regulate mood don’t function normally, the result can be feelings of depression, along with symptoms of fatigue and weight gain. -2
SAD usually starts in young adulthood and is more common in women than men. Some people with SAD have mild symptoms and feel out of sorts or irritable. Others have worse symptoms that interfere with relationships and work. -2
What Are the Symptoms of SAD During Winter?
- Less energy
- Trouble concentrating
- Greater appetite
- Increased desire to be alone
- Greater need for sleep
- Weight gain
How You Can Prevent Seasonal Affective Disorder:
- Spend some time outside every day, even when it’s cloudy. The effects of daylight still help.
- Eat a well-balanced diet. This will help you have more energy, even if you’re craving starchy and sweet foods. Many people who suffer from the winter blues crave junk food and soft drinks as the days get shorter. The reason some people indulge in high-sugar foods is because carbohydrates are often effective in increasing energy levels in the brain. A better strategy for anyone with the winter blues would be to eat larger portions of complex carbohydrates, like pasta and rice, and healthy simple carbohydrates like fruits and fruit juices during meals. Also, stay away from unhealthy snacks that will cause momentary relief, but ultimately decrease energy and increases weight gain for many. Increased weight gain may also lower a person’s self-esteem, worsening one’s depression.
- Exercise for 30 minutes a day, five times a week. Exercise has proven to help people combat feeling of the blues in the winter. Not only does exercise improve mood, but it also has been shown to reduce stress, which often exacerbates feelings of depression brought on by the winter blues. Studies had pointed out that one hour doing aerobic exercise outside (even with a cloudy skies overhead) had the same benefits as 2.5 hours of light treatment indoors. Aerobic exercise can help a person rid themselves of the feelings of depression. Briskly walking, taking a run and group exercise classes have all be proven to help suffers of the blues feel better.
- Implement a sleep routine. An unhealthy sleep-wake schedule can limit the number of hours that those with the winter blues are exposed to sunlight. Winter blues sufferers should make an effort to expose themselves to sunlight in the early morning. Take a walk outside or open the curtains in your room as soon as you rise. Try to limit sleep to 8-hour periods on a regular schedule. Oversleeping and fluctuation in sleep-wake schedule causes increases in levels of melatonin during sleep, which can contribute to feelings of depression. Set a regular bedtime and wake up at the same time each day. This will give you more energy during the day and reduce feelings of depression.
- Stay involved with your social circle and regular activities. Social support is very important.
- Light therapy has been known to help in extreme cases – consult your doctor for this treatment option.
When Should I Call my Doctor About Seasonal Depression?
If you feel depressed, fatigued, and irritable the same time each year, and these feelings seem to be seasonal in nature, you may have a form of SAD. Talk openly with your doctor about your feelings. Follow the doctor’s recommendations for lifestyle changes and treatment if you have SAD. -2
1 – http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Seasonal_affective_disorder
2 – http://www.webmd.com/depression/guide/seasonal-affective-disorder
3 – http://psychcentral.com/library/seasonal_affective_treatment.htm
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