Do you find yourself struggling with depression year after year when the winter months hit? Or do you feel agitated and restless every summer? For you the “winter blues” and/or “summer angst” may feel unmanageable, sending your emotional and physical health into a tailspin during specific seasonal months.
If this describes you, then you may be struggling with a very real disorder known as Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD) and have cause to seek help from medical professionals and/or alter your lifestyle.
Definition and Causes
SAD is a psychological condition resulting in depression, linked with either the winter or summer seasons. Although the specific causes of SAD are unknown, the disorder most often affects women, adolescents, and young adults.
Although the causes are not fully understood, the Mayo Clinic explains that SAD most likely stems from three factors all impacted by sunlight: (1) your biological clock (circadian rhythm), (2) your serotonin level (neurotransmitter dictating mood), and (3) your melatonin level (hormone regulating mood and sleep patterns). A change in any of these three factors can lead to depression that can be severe.
In order to be diagnosed with SAD, you must meet three criteria outlined by the American Psychiatric Association:
- You experience depression two years in a row during the same season.
- The depression only lasts during that specific season.
- No other factor leading to depression can be blamed.
Common treatment for SAD can include:
- Light therapy
- Maintaining a healthy diet of lean protein, fruits and vegetables
- Regular exercise to relieve stress and anxiety
- More exposure to sunlight
- Therapy with a trained professional
Perhaps the most well known remedy is light therapy (phototherapy) in which a person is exposed to artificial light under the direction of a doctor. According to Michael Terman, director of the Center for Light Treatment and Biological Rhythms, “To determine the best time for light therapy, you need to know about a person’s individual circadian rhythm.” A self-assessment tool is available on the Center for Environmental Therapeutics website, offering insights about personal circadian rhythms.
Have you or someone you love been affected by Seasonal Affective Disorder?
What has helped? Share in the comments below.