Many studies show that in fact the environment can influence your mental health. An example of the environment affecting your mental health could be seasons changing. Certain weather, such as rain, has been known to make people depressed, whereas sunshine makes people appear to be in a positive mood.
As we are in winter now in the Southern Hemisphere moving into spring soon I thought that this would be the perfect topic to write a blog on, looking at Seasonal Depression.
Seasonal Depression (Seasonal Affective Disorder)
Seasonal depression, also called seasonal affective disorder (SAD), is a type of depression. It’s triggered by the change of seasons and most commonly begins in late fall. Symptoms include feelings of sadness, lack of energy, loss of interest in usual activities, oversleeping and weight gain. Treatments include light therapy, talk therapy and antidepressants.
What is seasonal affective disorder (SAD)?
Seasonal affective disorder (SAD) is a type of depression that’s triggered by a change in seasons, usually when fall starts. This seasonal depression gets worse in the late fall or early winter before ending in the sunnier days of spring.
You can also get a mild version of SAD known as the “winter blues.” It’s normal to feel a little down during colder months. You may be stuck inside, and it gets dark early.
But full SAD goes beyond this. It’s a form of depression. Unlike the winter blues, SAD affects your daily life, including how you feel and think. Fortunately, treatment can help you get through this challenging time.
Seasonal affective disorder is also called seasonal depression.
Can people get seasonal affective disorder (SAD) in the summer?
Some people get a rare form of SAD called “summer depression.” It starts in the late spring or early summer and ends in the fall. It’s less common than the seasonal affective disorder that tends to come during winter.
Who is at risk for seasonal affective disorder (SAD)?
Seasonal affective disorder (SAD) is more common in younger people and women. You’re also at higher risk if you:
Have another mood disorder, such as major depressive disorder or bipolar disorder.
Have relatives with SAD or other forms of depression or mental health conditions, such as major depression or schizophrenia.
Live at latitudes far north or far south from the equator. There’s less sunlight during the winter at these latitudes.
Live in cloudy regions.
SYMPTOMS AND CAUSES
What are the symptoms of seasonal affective disorder (SAD)?
Seasonal affective disorder (SAD) is a type of depression. According to the American Psychiatric Association, SAD is officially classified as major depressive disorder with seasonal patterns. So if you have seasonal affective disorder, you have mood changes and symptoms of depression, including:
Sadness, feeling depressed most of the day, almost every day.
Carbohydrate cravings and weight gain.
Extreme fatigue and lack of energy.
Feelings of hopelessness or worthlessness.
Feeling irritated or agitated.
Limbs (arms and legs) that feel heavy.
Loss of interest in usually pleasurable activities, including withdrawing from social activities.
Sleeping problems (usually oversleeping).
Thoughts of death or suicide.
People who have summer SAD may experience:
Agitation and restlessness.
Decreased appetite and weight loss.
Episodes of violent behavior.
Trouble sleeping (insomnia).
What causes seasonal affective disorder (SAD)?
Researchers don’t know exactly what causes seasonal depression. Lack of sunlight may trigger the condition if you’re prone to getting it. The theories suggest:
Biological clock change: When there’s less sunlight, your biological clock shifts. This internal clock regulates your mood, sleep and hormones. When it shifts, you’re out of step with the daily schedule you’ve been used to and can’t adjust to changes in daylight length.
Brain chemical imbalance: Brain chemicals called neurotransmitters send communications between nerves. These chemicals include serotonin, which contributes to feelings of happiness. If you’re at risk of SAD, you may already have less serotonin activity. Since sunlight helps regulate serotonin, a lack of sunlight in the winter can make the situation worse. Serotonin levels can fall further, leading to depression.
Vitamin D deficiency: Your serotonin level also gets a boost from vitamin D. Since sunlight helps produce vitamin D, less sun in the winter can lead to a vitamin D deficiency. That change can affect your serotonin level and your mood.
Melatonin boost: Melatonin is a chemical that affects your sleep patterns and mood. The lack of sunlight may stimulate an overproduction of melatonin in some people. You may feel sluggish and sleepy during the winter.
Negative thoughts: People with SAD often have stress, anxiety and negative thoughts about the winter. Researchers aren’t sure if these negative thoughts are a cause or effect of seasonal depression.
How is seasonal affective disorder (SAD) diagnosed?
If you have symptoms of seasonal affective disorder (SAD), don’t try to diagnose yourself. See your healthcare provider for a thorough evaluation. You may have another reason for your depression. Many times, seasonal affective disorder is part of a more complex mental health issue.
Your provider may refer you to a psychiatrist or psychologist. These mental health professionals will ask you about your symptoms. They’ll consider your pattern of symptoms and decide if you have seasonal depression or another mood disorder. You may need to fill out a questionnaire to determine if you have SAD.
How is seasonal affective disorder (SAD) treated?
Your provider will talk to you about treatment options. You may need a combination of treatments, including:
Light therapy: Bright light therapy, using a special lamp, can help treat SAD.
Cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT): CBT is a type of talk therapy. Research has shown it effectively treats SAD, producing the longest-lasting effects of any treatment approach.
Antidepressant medication: Sometimes, providers recommend medication for depression, either alone or with light therapy.
Spending time outdoors: Getting more sunlight can help improve your symptoms. Try to get out during the day. Also, increase the amount of sunlight that enters your home or office.
Vitamin D: A vitamin D supplement may help improve your symptoms.
Can I prevent seasonal affective disorder (SAD)?
You may not be able to prevent the first episode of SAD. But once your provider has diagnosed you with seasonal depression, you can take steps to better manage it or even prevent it from coming back.
Get out: Spend time outside every day, even if it’s cloudy. Daylight can help you feel better.
Eat a well-balanced diet: Even though your body may crave starchy and sweet foods, stick to nutritious choices. A healthy diet with enough vitamins and minerals can give you the proper nutrition and energy you need.
Exercise: Try to get 30 minutes of exercise at least three times a week. Exercise relieves stress and anxiety, which can play a role in your SAD symptoms.
See friends: Stay involved with your social circle and regular activities. They can provide support during the winter months.
Find help: Consider seeing a mental health professional who’s trained in CBT. This treatment can be very effective for seasonal affective disorder.
Consider medications: Talk to your healthcare provider about taking an antidepressant. Medications can help if your symptoms are severe or if they continue after other treatments. In some cases, taking the medication before SAD begins can prevent episodes.
Don’t hesitate to get in touch with me for an online counselling session. Let’s together create an environment where you can connect with yourself again, an environment that fosters and encourages authenticity. An environment where you can follow your gut and get to know what it looks like.
After doing an intake I might be able to help you with a few sessions using BWRT (Brainworking Recursive Therapy) read more about BWRT on another blog on my website: https://thewellsamaria.co.za/what-is-brainworking-recursive-therapy-or-bwrt/, or we will use another technique depending on your unique needs.
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