Updated: Dec 31, 2020
By: Michelle Li
It’s that time of year again when leaves finished changing color and trees are nearly bare. The exposure we have to sunlight is starting to become shorter as days go by. As the fall and winter months approach, many individuals experience conditions like a bout of blues and Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD). What is there to do?
What is Seasonal Affective Disorder?
SAD is a form of depression that arises due to seasons changes. Contrary to popular belief, SAD occurs during the summer and spring, rather than only during the colder seasons. During the winter and fall seasons, the common symptoms of SAD range from fatigue, appetite changes, up to and including weight gain.
Causes of and Treatments for SAD
Seasonal Affective Disorder can seem like having the winter blues. However, their apparent similarities do not mean its symptoms cannot be prevented. On a biological level, SAD has been shown to be in fact very treatable.
1. Lack of sunlight
SAD can be triggered by vitamin D deficiency, caused by a lack of exposure to sunlight. Lacking vitamin D, which is an essential nutrient for proper hormone functions, (especially thyroid hormones, which are responsible for regulating weight and mood, amongst other important health aspects) can contribute to the symptoms associated with seasonal affective disorder. The lack of sunlight can disturb the body’s internal clock, creating a feeling of sadness.
Luckily, the effects of less exposure to sunlight during colder seasons can be counteracted using a light therapy treatment. During light therapy, patients are instructed to sit near a lightbox within one hour of waking-up each day. The lightbox emits frequencies of light that are similar to those that given off by the sun. Exposure to this type of light allows the body to restabilize its internal clock, and along with that, certain hormones that are linked to mood. A single lightbox can be purchased and used from the comfort of one’s home.
To counteract the lack of vitamin D in the body, taking supplements can be of great benefit. Before choosing to take supplements however, it is important to obtain approval from a medical practitioner beforehand.
2. Skewed levels of brain chemicals
Changes in season can have a negative effect on two major chemicals involved in mood and sleep regulation: serotonin and melatonin. Individuals suffering from “Seasonal Affective Disorder” may have decreased levels of serotonin - which causes reduced happiness - as well as higher levels of melatonin - which causes oversleeping and fatigue.
Although there is not an effective way to treat this condition at home, there are always an option to consult doctors - who prescribe antidepressants to treat its symptoms. Once again, it is important to always consult a medical professional before choosing to take any medications or supplements!
Another way to reduce feelings of sadness is to consider talk therapy. There will always be an option to reach out and talk to trained counselors. Through procedural therapy, individuals will likely be able to identify aspects of their lives that contribute to depression and, over time, discover new profound ways to cope with SAD.
In summary, there is no need to fret if you have SAD. SAD is a very common, treatable disorder. If you suspect that you are experiencing SAD, make sure to consult medical professionals for diagnoses before administering any treatment!