Tis the Season for Seasonal Affective Disorder- What to do when your mood turns grey with the skies

Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD) is a subtype of Major Depression with onset in darker winter seasons. It generally affects adults over the age of 20, and is more common in northern areas where it’s colder and less sunny. SAD often begins and ends at about the same time every year. People with a history of clinical depression or bipolar disorder can be more susceptible to SAD. Did you know that 75% of people who suffer from SAD are women? 

            If you’re like most people with SAD, your symptoms probably start in the fall (September) and continue into the winter months (March). Low levels of serotonin are thought to contribute to depression, and serotonin production slows down with fewer hours of sunlight. Darkness triggers the release of melatonin, which controls sleeping and eating. The transition from summer to winter changes the time that melatonin is released and this throws the body’s natural time clock out of sync, potentially triggering the symptoms of SAD. Symptoms of SAD include: sleeping more than usual, lethargy, nervousness, anxiety, irritability, and inability to concentrate. People with SAD often crave carbohydrates and will often gain weight. Social isolation and a general loss of interest are also signs of SAD. 

As with most things, there is rarely a one size fits all approach that will work for everyone. You may need to spend some time experimenting with different strategies to find out what works best for you, but luckily there are a number of options. Since seasonal depression has a predictable pattern of recurrence, preventative measures can help reduce symptoms. Light Box therapy (at least 30 minutes a day), increasing exercise and activity, meditation, eating healthy, spending more time outdoors, aromatherapy (essential oils) and visiting climates that have more sun can be helpful (this isn’t a possibility for everyone, but if you are able to book a holiday during the winter months, it really helps SAD). Your level of vitamin D may also be affected by gloomier days and vitamin D deficiency has also been associated with SAD. Cognitive Behavioural Therapy (CBT) and Interpersonal Therapy have also been shown to be an effective treatment option. Ideally, if you know you’re prone to SAD, you’ll do well to start Psychotherapy one to two months before the change in season. That way, you and your therapist can prepare and plan to help minimize your symptoms. 

Author: Amanda Riley, M.A., Registered Psychotherapist & Certified Life Coach


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