Seasonal Affective Disorder or SAD is a form of depression that usually occurs in wintertime. Contrary to what many people think, SAD is more than just the winter blues. It may be a sign of a larger mental or emotional condition and can have serious implications on your wellbeing.
As we enter the heart of winter, seasonal affective disorder is a health topic that is well worth examining, especially for women. Women are more prone to the condition, which is consistent with all forms of depression. Also, people who live in northern states or colder climates are more likely to be diagnosed with SAD. That’s because it is related to the weather and the lack of sun.
Although all causes of seasonal affective disorder are not fully known, experts believe it occurs for several reasons stemming from the absence of sunshine. Less sun in the winter can take its toll on our bodies in major ways. First, it may interrupt our circadian rhythm, that internal body clock that helps us stay on a daily routine. You may notice your circadian rhythm is off when traveling to different time zones. SAD works similarly but has a longer term effect due to many months without much sun.
Sun is also a key component of a couple of essential chemical reactions in our brains and bodies. Serotonin is a neurotransmitter that creates feelings of joy and happiness. Less sun causes a reduction in serotonin, which can lead to depression. Also, melatonin, a hormone that controls sleep and wake cycles, can be disrupted by the lack of sun.
Seasonal affective disorder is a depression marked by sadness, fatigue, anxiety, lethargy and disinterest in activities that you typically enjoy. People with SAD often feel unmotivated to do much of anything. In severe cases, SAD can lead to deep depression and thoughts of suicide. Those who already have some form of depression or bipolar disorder are more likely to suffer from SAD or experience a flare-up of symptoms during certain seasons. SAD typically occurs in winter but can rear its head in other seasons as well.
The standard treatment for seasonal affective disorder used to be light therapy or phototherapy. The idea here is to jumpstart the body into producing serotonin, melatonin and reviving a normal circadian rhythm. Now, various recommendations are made based on an individual’s medical status. Regular talk therapy or medication may be a more effective solution for some patients.
If you feel you are experiencing SAD or know someone who is, speak up and take action. Visit your physician and encourage others to do the same. Treatments are highly effective and can make the difference between a depressing winter and one that is productive and bright.