Know About the Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD)
Sadness is a normal emotion generally experienced by all and is connected to a specific trigger situation or event. On the other hand, depression does not necessarily require any trigger point. Depression is a common and serious mood disorder. Those suffering from depression experience persistent feelings of sadness and hopelessness and lose interest in activities they once enjoyed. It affects the way a person thinks, feels, and deals with daily activities in life. It can be caused by a combination of genetic, biological, environmental, and psychological factors. It can affect people of any age but is most prominent amongst young adults. Apart from the emotional problems, individuals dealing with depression also face physical symptoms such as chronic pain or digestive issues.
Seasonal Depression or Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD) is a mood disorder occurring as a result of changing climatic conditions. Significant mood and behavioural changes are observed due to shifting seasons that affect an individual’s emotions, behavior, and cognition. It impacts the thinking pattern and perceptual abilities of a person and is usually witnessed during the monsoon and winter seasons pertaining to the diminished amounts of sunlight available during this period; nevertheless, it can take place during the summer season too. The winter pattern SAD is more common than the summer pattern SAD. This seasonal depression majorly affects women and the young population more than men. Those living farther north are also prone to experiencing SAD as the presence of sunlight up there is much lesser. People diagnosed with major depressive disorder (MDD), bipolar disorders (especially type II) and other mental illnesses like anxiety disorders, eating disorders or panic disorder are more likely to develop symptoms of SAD. Those having relatives with a history of major mental health disorders such as schizophrenia or MDD are also susceptible to suffering from SAD.
It is normal to feel a little down and experience “blues” every once in a while. However, when recurrence of such blues begins to hamper a person’s wellbeing and day-to-day functioning, it can be a cause of concern. The following symptoms can be recognized as those of SAD:
-Feeling gloomy, sad, down too often, and on most days
-Losing interest in things and activities that were once enjoyed
-Lower levels of energy
-Suicidal thoughts or thoughts about death
-Apart from these, the following symptoms help distinguish between Winter and Summer SAD:
-Sleeping disorders- a) Oversleeping (Hypersomnia) in case of Winter SAD and b) Having trouble sleeping (Insomnia) in case of Summer SAD
-Digestive issues- a) Increased appetite and craving for carbs during Winter SAD and b) Loss of appetite during Summer SAD
-Physical changes- a) Weight gain while facing Winter SAD and b) Weight loss while facing Summer SAD
Note-The symptoms of SAD may last 4-5 months in a year and could possibly coincide with those of MDD. It is important to make sure the depressive episodes and other symptoms shall have occurred only during specific seasons like summers or winters for at least 2 consecutive years to be classified as SAD.
Minimum availability of sunlight: SAD can be mainly attributed to a lack of sunlight which is a natural source of Vitamin D that regulates the production of serotonin, a chemical responsible for mood regulation
Reduced Brain Activity: As per research, sunlight helps maintain normal serotonin levels and a decreased amount of serotonin fails to boost brain activity
Overproduction of melatonin: Melatonin is a hormone responsible for maintaining the sleep-wake cycle and an increase in its production makes one sleep longer than usual
Disruption in the biological clock: the body’s biological clock undergoes drastic change due to lowered levels of sunlight which disrupts the normal schedule and affects mood, sleep, and behaviour altogether.
Psychotherapy: Cognitive Behavioural Therapy (CBT) is a type of talk therapy that focuses on replacing the negative thought processes of the individual dealing with SAD with more positive ones. It helps in developing coping mechanisms, adapting to newer schedules, and also works on behavior modification especially related to how the individual can engage in more productive indoor and outdoor activities so as to increase his/her energy levels.
Outdoor activity: Engaging in outdoor activities which allow exposure to natural sunlight can boost energy levels and improve symptoms of SAD.
Light therapy: Exposing those suffering from SAD to a specially curated bright light for 30-40 mins every morning if adequate sunlight is not available can be beneficial. However, people sensitive to light or those undergoing certain treatment or having eye issues need to ensure light therapy is undertaken through proper guidance.
Medications: Antidepressants like Selective Serotonin Reuptake Inhibitors or SSRIs can influence mood but must be taken only under medical guidance due to their side effects.
Consuming a well-balanced diet: A rich diet filled with vitamins and minerals could maintain adequate energy levels in the body and ensure sound health.
Exercising: Partaking in any kind of physical activity on a daily basis could keep the body active and proves to be refreshing for the mind as well.
Spending time in broad daylight: Engaging in an outdoor activity may expose a person to sunlight which may prevent disrupting the body’s normal cycle.
Stay connected: Friends and family can have a great impact on an individual’s mood and thinking. Connecting with them may provide a boost and help ward off the winter blues.
Seeking help: If any kinds of symptoms speculated begin to affect an individual’s ability to function seeming like those of SAD, one must seek professional help and receive treatment immediately to avoid further escalation of the problem.