Many people experience a lack of energy, sleep problems, and mood changes with the first gloomy days of fall and winter. It’s normal to feel blue from time to time.
However, if your symptoms significantly impact your mood or interfere with daily activities you may be experiencing SAD. You can talk to your doctor about your symptoms and ways to manage SAD and ease seasonal depression.
What is SAD?
Seasonal affective disorder (SAD), also known as seasonal depression, is a type of depression that usually comes about with the season change. SAD usually begins and ends at the same time every year.
Most SAD symptoms usually begin in the fall and continue throughout the winter months. Your symptoms can range from very mild to severe.
According to the American Psychiatric Association, about five percent of adults in the United States experience SAD. In addition, seasonal affective disorder is more common in women than in men.
What Causes SAD?
It is believed that circadian clock disruption in fall and winter can trigger the seasonal affective disorder in some people. Namely, shorter daylight hours and less sunlight in fall and winter can cause a biochemical imbalance in the brain, triggering SAD.
Typically, people who live in the regions further from the equator are at more risk of developing SAD.
What are the Most Common Symptoms of Seasonal Affective Disorder?
SAD symptoms can range from low energy levels and daytime sleepiness to severe symptoms such as extreme fatigue, ongoing low mood and sadness, and social withdrawal.
If you suffer from seasonal depression, you may experience the following symptoms:
- Low mood
- Sleep problems
- Apathy and lethargy
- Problems concentrating
- Appetite changes and weight gain
- Loss of interest in social activities
How to Manage SAD?
Recognizing your SAD symptoms on time is an important first step in overcoming the seasonal affective disorder. Here are five effective ways to manage SAD.
1) Prioritize Exercise
Regular physical activity helps release neurotransmitters such as serotonin and dopamine in the brain. These neurochemicals are also known as hormones of happiness. Their production triggers the growth of new brain cells and neural connections, causing effects very similar to antidepressant therapy.
2) Practice Mindfulness
Mindfulness exercise can be an effective strategy to gain control over negative thinking patterns and ease seasonal depression. Mindfulness allows you to be fully present at the moment, observing your thoughts without self-judgment. Also, regular mindfulness practice can boost your mood and optimism and ease anxiety.
3) Try Light Therapy
Light therapy or phototherapy method uses special light boxes that produce bright artificial light. These lamps simulate exposure to sunlight to suppress the production of melatonin. It has been widely used since the 1980s to ease seasonal depression symptoms.
4) Consider Medication
Antidepressant medications are commonly used to treat seasonal affective disorder. If you experience severe SAD symptoms, your doctor may prescribe antidepressants such as selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors. However, discuss the possible risks of using prescribed medication with your GP, as antidepressants can have side effects.
5) Seek Psychotherapy
If you experience SAD symptoms that last for weeks and significantly affect your daily life, consider psychotherapy. Cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT) has proven effective in SAD treatment.
CBT can help recognize negative thought patterns that cause depressive moods and replace them with positive thoughts. Besides, in CBT sessions, you can learn to identify pleasurable activities to help you cope during the winter months.