Seasonal Affective Disorder: Common Signs & Treatments

It is that time of year when many people experience the winter blues. This may be in part due to seasonal affective disorder, a type of depression caused by lack of light exposure during certain times of the year.

It’s estimated that up to 20% of Americans suffer from SAD symptoms each year and it can have an impact on their daily life, including work performance or school attendance.

In this article we’ll go through some common signs and treatments for Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD), and what you can do to prevent it.

1. What is Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD)?

Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD) is a type of depression that occurs at specific points in the seasons. The most common form of  SAD starts in the late fall or early winter and resolves during the spring and summer; this is known as winter-pattern SAD or winter depression. 

The less common form is when people experience depressive episodes during the spring and summer months; this is called summer-pattern SAD or summer depression.

2. Symptoms of SAD

The most common sign someone has Seasonal Affective Disorder is feeling down or sad consistently throughout at least two weeks per year.

These feelings are compounded by other symptoms during this time such as:

    • Feeling depressed most of the day, nearly every day
    • Losing interest in activities you once enjoyed
    • Experiencing changes in appetite or weight
    • Having problems with sleep
    • Feeling sluggish or agitated
    • Having low energy
    • Feeling hopeless or worthless
    • Having difficulty concentrating
    • Having frequent thoughts of death or suicide

For winter-pattern SAD, additional specific symptoms may include:

  • Oversleeping (hypersomnia)
  • Overeating, particularly with a craving for carbohydrates
  • Weight gain
  • Social withdrawal (feeling like “hibernating”)

Specific symptoms for summer-pattern SAD may include:

  • Trouble sleeping (insomnia)
  • Poor appetite, leading to weight loss
  • Restlessness and agitation
  • Anxiety
  • Episodes of violent behavior

The symptoms of SAD can range from mild to debilitating, but they often subside after the seasons change.

If you notice any of these symptoms, speak to a licensed healthcare professional like a therapist or psychiatrist.

The symptoms of SAD can range from mild to debilitating, but they often subside after the seasons change.

3. How to treat your SAD with therapy and medication

Seasonal Affective Disorder can be treated with light therapy, psychotherapy, antidepressants and Vitamin D.

In terms of psychotherapy, an example is Cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) which is a type of talk therapy aimed at helping people learn how to cope with difficult situations; CBT has been adapted for people with SAD. There are other types of psychotherapy that have been proven to help in managing symptoms of depression, talk to your therapist. 

In terms of antidepressant, a psychiatrist can help determine the best medication and dosage for an individual.

You might be suffering from pre-existing depression which SAD exacerbates, and seeing a mental health specialist may assist you even more.

 4. How to beat the winter blues with lifestyle changes

There are several lifestyle changes someone can do to beat the winter blues, including exercise, a healthy diet and light therapy.

Exercise is good for you in general but it also releases endorphins which naturally lift your mood. Going outside on sunny days when possible is another way of getting natural sunlight and Vitamin D – both important factors in the  treatment of SAD. 

Alongside exercise, a healthy diet can help people get the nutrients they need to function and fight off unwanted symptoms such as fatigue and sickness.

Light therapy is another great way to treat the winter blues. There are several types of light boxes which emit bright white or blue lights that simulate natural sunlight. 

These can be used as an alternative to other forms of treatment, especially for those who live in areas where seasons change very little and may not see much sun exposure all year round.

Here is a list of potential light box options:

  • Verilux HappyLight Liberty Sunshine Simulator
  • North Light Technologies Northern Lite Full Spectrum Desk Lamp
  • Philips goLITE BLU Energy Light

These lifestyle changes have the potential to help provide relief from SAD symptoms and make life more manageable.

 

5. How to use natural remedies as a treatment for SAD

 

There are several natural remedies that can be used to treat Seasonal Affective Disorder.

Vitamin D supplementation which has become very popular as research suggests it can help with SAD symptoms. 

Deficiency in vitamin D can lead to depression so taking a supplement may be beneficial if you are low on this important nutrient. The best way to get your daily dose of Vitamin D is through food or supplements.

Another natural way to help with SAD is making sure you have a protein filled diet. Protein high foods include meats, nuts and beans. 

Protein is important for a healthy brain so eating foods with this nutrient can help you function better. It also keeps your blood sugar level stable which contributes to a better mood.

Lastly, Melatonin has been found to help lessen the effects of the winter doldrums

Melatonin is a naturally occurring hormone in the brain. It has been found to help those who are struggling with misalignment of their circadian rhythms – a major component of SAD – to feel better during the winter months.

If you are looking for ways to reduce your symptoms of SAD there are natural remedies that can be used!

6. Tips on how to protect yourself from getting SAD in the first place

If you are worried about Seasonal Affective Disorder this winter season, there are ways that you can lessen the likelihood of getting SAD before the winter months begin.

The first preventative measure is getting light exposure early in the fall. Whether with a lamp or simply going outside, this has been shown to help those who experience mood changes due to SAD.

Another way to prevent the disorder is staying active throughout the year and not letting yourself get too sedentary or isolated. Exercising outside on sunny days is a double bonus – so make sure you can do this if possible!

Also, make sure you are eating a well balanced diet throughout the year so as not to deplete your nutrient levels which have been shown to trigger more depressive feelings during winter months.

Finally, surround yourself with friends and people who can support you through the tough winter months.

If you take precautions to prevent Seasonal Affective Disorder, make lifestyle changes and get the appropriate treatment there is a much greater chance that your condition will not be extremely difficult during the winter months!

Seasonal Affective Disorder can be debilitating.  We know that winter is a hard time with the colder weather and shorter daylight hours. You may be feeling depressed, lethargic or even lose your appetite. These are all signs of seasonal affective disorder (SAD).

Luckily there is hope for relief! If you think that you might have SAD and want the help of a mental health professional, schedule an appointment today. We can help.