The transition of seasons is a welcome change for many. However, for some, the seasonal changes can trigger a challenging condition called Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD). For those that experience this disorder, the symptoms can be troublesome and even dangerous. Women and young adults are at heightened risk for SAD, and symptoms may increase from mild to severe over the course of the condition. So, how can you tell if you're suffering from SAD and what can you do to treat it? Keep reading to find out!
What is SAD?
Seasonal Affective Disorder is a form of depression that's linked to the change of seasons. While most people associate SAD with fall and winter months, the transition from winter to spring and summer can also trigger Seasonal Affective Disorder. The National Institute of Health estimates that nearly 6% of people will experience SAD, while 14% of people experience a milder form of SAD, often called the "winter blues."
It isn't exactly clear what causes SAD, but researchers suspect that hormonal changes could be a factor. Along with hormones, a reduction of light in the winter may also reduce serotonin production. Serotonin is essential for creating healthy nerve cell pathways that regulate your mood. Without these pathways, people experience the symptoms of depression.
What Does SAD Feel Like?
For many people the short days, overcast skies, and cold temperatures of winter not only means more time indoors but a significant change in their mood as well. For others, the onset of spring and summer may cause similar symptoms. Before you dismiss your symptoms, make sure you check to see if you're experiencing Seasonal Affective Disorder. Remember, symptoms may start out mild and increase in severity, so take note if your symptoms change. Symptoms for SAD include:
- Feeling hopeless, worthless, or guilty
- Feelings of death or suicide *Seek immediate medical attention
- Low energy
- Trouble concentrating
- Changes in appetite (Increased appetite for winter SAD, decreased appetite for summer SAD)
- Isolating oneself
- Changes in sleep (Increased sleep for winter SAD, decreased sleep for summer SAD)
- Changes in weight (Weight gain for winter SAD, weight loss for summer SAD)
It's important to seek medical help if you're experiencing any of these symptoms.
What Treatments are Available for SAD?
Treatments for SAD patients vary depending on other conditions the patient may have. Medication, light therapy, and lifestyle changes can help. Your doctor can evaluate you and direct you to the best course of treatment. There are actions all of us can take to stay healthy during the seasonal changes, whether we deal with SAD or not. Here are some tips for staying healthy through the season changes.
Let the Light In
During winter months especially, make a point to sit near windows during the day, get outside, and open those blinds and curtains! Scientists also recommend getting sunlight first thing in the morning, ideally within the first hour of waking up.
Schedule Being Social
The trademark of human beings is that we're social creatures. Don't let too much time go by between your social activities. Plan a game night, visit friends, or host a dinner party. Get out there and have some fun!
Keep Your Mind and Body Active
Physical activity activates chemicals in your body that improve mood and anxiety. Even one short walk a day can help relieve stress and improve your health. Health also includes your mental well-being, so keep your brain active. Learning something new like an instrument or even a new game can help keep your mind sharp.
You Are What You Eat
There's wisdom in the old saying, "You are what you eat." In the winter months, it's especially important to introduce healthy mood-boosting foods. For starters, try:
- Squash, high in magnesium and potassium
- Sweet potatoes, full of vitamin B6, biotin, and anti-inflammatory agents
- Turmeric, helps calm stress pathways
- Salmon, packed with energy-boosting omega-3 fatty acids
- Bananas, help keep blood sugar levels stable
- Asparagus, one of the best sources of plant-based sources of serotonin creating agents
For some, the change of seasons can be a challenging time due to Seasonal Affective Disorder. It's important to pay attention to your health and seek help for symptoms of depression. SAD Is treatable, and it's important to know you are not alone in your struggle. Contact your primary care provider for help!