Seasonal Affective Disorder: What is it? How can we keep it under control?

As the seasons chan

ge and the weather gets colder, do you feel yourself getting glum? The days are shorter, and we don’t see much sunlight after work hours as the sun sets earlier.  If you are among the 10-20% of people who suffer from this, you may have something called Seasonal Affective Disorder, or SAD. 

SAD is a type of depression that develops during the dark and cloudy gray days of winter. Surprisingly, this depression does not surface until the spring and early summer, after the winter months have sapped our energy and lowered our moods.


What are the symptoms of Seasonal Affective Disorder?

While loss of energy and depression are most common, other symptoms can include:

  • Hopelessness
  • Anxiety
  • Heavy feeling of arms and legs
  • Oversleeping
  • Social withdrawal
  • Weight gain
  • Loss of interest in activities you once enjoyed

What causes SAD?

The specific cause is still unknown. Generally it seems to affect certain patients more than others. A person with a genetic predisposition or mental health issues is most vulnerable. The common theories explaining SAD are:

  • Biological clock (circadian rhythm):  Reduced levels of light will disrupt the body’s internal clock which can lead to depression.
  • Serotonin levels: Serotonin is a neurotransmitter that effects mood and gets a boost from sunlight. These levels may drop in the winter and trigger depression.
  • SADMelatonin levels: Melatonin is a hormone that helps control our sleep patterns and moods. Production of this hormone can be reduced during the winter months which can disrupt sleep and trigger low moods.

Who is most at risk?

  • Females
  • Having a family history of SAD
  • People with clinical depression or bipolar disorder
  • People living very far away from the equator

What are some ways to help prevent prevent SAD?

  • Exercise regularly 4 times a week for a minimum of 30-45 minutes.
  • Getting outside in the sun for as little as 10 to 15 minutes can help prevent SAD.
  • Replace your traditional vanity light with a full-spectrum bulb to reap its advantages while getting ready for school or work in the morning.
  • Supplement with Vitamin D 2,000 IU daily. Increased dosages should only be taken if recommended by your doctor.  Vitamin D supplements are especially important if you wear sunscreen regularly.

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