What is Seasonal Depression?
Seasonal depression is also known as Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD) is a type of depression that begins in the fall, worsens in the winter and end in the spring. Those with SAD have reported having a particular type of depression and unexplained fatigue around the same time each year when the daylight hours become shorter. But, when Spring returns energy levels and mood return.
What Causes SAD?
The exact cause of SAD is unknown but experts believe that the change in seasons and limited sunlight is the number one cause of SAD. Depression is triggered by the brains response to the decrease in sunlight. The current theories of what causes SAD are focused on the role that sunlight plays in the brain’s production of key chemicals. Two of the key chemicals in the brain are melatonin and serotonin. Melatonin is linked to sleep and the brain produces it in greater quantities when it is dark. On the other hand, Serotonin production is increased when a person is exposed to greater quantities of sunlight.
These chemicals are essential in regulating a person’s sleep-wake cycle, energy levels, and mood. Therefore, shorter days and longer hours of increased darkness in the winter and fall can cause increased levels of melatonin and decreased levels of serotonin, and thus creating conditions for depression.
What are the Symptoms of SAD?
Some of the commons symptoms for sad are:
- Extreme fatigue and lack of energy
- Increased need to sleep
- Craving simple carbohydrates (sugary foods and comfort foods) and weight gain due to the change in eating
- Lack of concentration. For students this can look like a drop in grades, difficulty completing simple tasks and a decrease in motivation.
- Withdrawal from social activities/interactions. In COVID times, this may be hard to gage given the current social distancing that’s being practiced. But, withdrawal can look like not wanting to talk to friends or doing things that you normally would enjoy.
How to Deal/Treatment for SAD
SAD is not just the “winter blues” and in some cases it may cause cardiac arrest. Recognizing the signs early on and speaking with a doctor or mental health professional is helpful in diagnosing and coming up with a treatment plan. Also, speaking with a professional is helpful because they can evaluate and eliminate any other medical conditions. Some of the treatment options for people dealing with SAD are:
- Talk therapy. This method focuses on the negative thought patterns that one may have and helps alleviate feelings of depression, isolation and loneliness.
- Light therapy. Those with severe symptoms of SAD may be recommended to receive light therapy also known as phototherapy. This type of therapy involves using a certain type of light that simulates daylight. This treatments is normally done everyday for 45 minutes under professional supervision.
- Exercise. In the current pandemic, going out to exercise can be really difficult but any form of exercise that gets your heart rate up for 30 minutes is better than no exercise. By excising, especially in the morning it enables you to get that natural light and helps regulate your circadian clock.
- Maximizing your light exposure. The amount of light that you are exposed throughout the day is important. But most importantly you want to be exposed to light in the morning rather than in the evening. If you are unable to step outside for a walk, sitting next to a big window for half of the day can help you intake some sunlight. Additionally, at night making sure that your room is as dark as possible can help you fall asleep faster and stay asleep.
- Consistency is key. Keeping a consistent schedule that you follow especially if you’re working from home can also help regulate your internal clock. This does not mean planning every second of your day, but being consistent in when you eat, sleep and engage in some form of exercise.