Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD) affects between 4-6% of Americans, according to the American Association of Family Physician. Another 10% to 20% will experience a mild version of SAD.
Usually, children and teenagers don’t experience symptoms of SAD. It tends to affect women over the age of 20.
SAD is a seasonal mood disorder relating to a reduction of light. This is why it was originally believed to be a winter season mood disorder.
Seasonal affective disorder summer variant has also been found in patients. While some people may suffer from not enough sunlight, others may become depressed or anxious from too much sun.
When it rains for weeks on end or people live in dark places that get very little sunlight during the winter, people are more vulnerable to seasonal affective disorder. It’s not related to the normal reasons behind depression and will pass once the light comes back at springtime.
Here are some interesting facts about seasonal depression.
1. Seasonal Affective Disorder is a Subtype
Seasonal depression doesn’t really exist without major depression. While it does come and go based on the amount of light you get, you can experience major depression issues when you’re going through SAD. Symptoms include:
- Feeling depressed with no motivation every day for long periods.
- A feeling of hopelessness.
- A lack of energy.
- A loss of interest in activities you used to like.
- Experiencing insomnia or sleeping too much.
- Changes in appetite or weight. You either don’t eat at all or overeat.
- You feel sluggish.
- You may feel agitated.
- You can’t concentrate.
- You have frequent thought of death or suicide.
To be sure, you can take a seasonal depression quiz online.
2. The Difference Between Winter Blues and Summer Depression
The National Institute of Mental Health reports that there are distinct difference between summer anxiety of depression and the winter blues.
Symptoms of the SAD Winter Pattern
- Low energy
- Weight gain
- Carb cravings
- Social withdrawal
Symptoms of summer seasonal affective disorder
- Episodes of violence
- Weight loss
- Poor appetite
3. The Likely Candidates for SAD
The most affected patients for SAD is woman. Women are about four times more likely to develop SAD than men. They make up between 60% and 90% of those who suffer from the winter blues or summer anxiety. Women aged 18-55 are most likely to experience seasonal affective disorder. This is due to serotonin levels which are affected by things like menopause and PMS.
4. SAD is related to Lack of Daylight
Even though the harsh chill in the air might bring you down, SAD is believed to relate more to daylight, not the temperature. Some experts believe that a lack of sunlight increases the body’s production of a body chemical called melatonin. Melatonin is what helps regulate sleep and can cause symptoms of depression.
5. Anti- depressants Can Help Some with Seasonal Depression
There are prescription medications that can help with the serotonin levels in the brain. Serotonin governs our moods. When we don’t produce enough serotonin, we can become depressed.
Medication that raise the serotonin levels are antidepressants and can be helpful for seasonal depression disorder. Some of the most common name brands include Paxil, Prozac, or Zoloft.
Antidepressants can work well for this temporary depressive disorder because they’re not recommended for long-term use. Many people have found them to be an important part of their SAD management.
As with any prescription for mood disorders, they should be used with other forms of non-medicated treatment. Holistic treatments like talk therapy and mindfulness meditation can also help people with seasonal depression feel better.
6. Stress and Biological Predisposition Can Attribute to SAD
Seasonal depression can be caused by more than just the lack of light in the winter months. The two main causes are actually stress and a biological predisposition. If there is a history of seasonal affective disorder, you could be more susceptible to getting seasonal depression.
During the winter when there is less sun, people with seasonal mood disorders can’t handle stress as easily. The dark days make it more challenging to meet deadlines because you’re more exhausted. This puts you in a more stressful situation as it is but you’re not able to cope with stress either.
Some of the theories include how sensitive the retina is to light. An abnormality in the genes that are held responsible for how serotonin is created may not be effective.
7. Holistic Light Therapy
Light therapy is one of the simplest and most effective ways to bring more light into your life. You can go outside, even on a dark cloudy day and get some of the natural light your body needs. If you can get out in the morning, the light is even better.
Understandably, the winter months also bring cold weather so going outside for a walk every morning doesn’t sound appealing. You can use regular lamps to lighten up your house or office space. Even better, is to get an artificial light therapy lamp. They are also branded as light boxes for seasonal depression.
There are many to choose from so you’ll probably want to do your research. It’s also helpful to look at sad light reviews to find out if people benefitted from a particular brand. There are some things you’ll want to consider when purchasing a light box.
- The surface are from where the light is coming from should be a minimum of 1 square foot.
- Fluorescent lights are the most effective. LED-based light boxes haven’t gone through enough testing for safety and efficacy.
- White light is better than the blue light.
Lux of Lightboxes
Light boxes have proven to not only beat SAD but also major depression. Studies found that it equates to medications in measurable strength. The measurement of effectiveness is how much light reaches your eyeball. The amount of inside lighting doesn’t compare to natural light.
Lux is a standard unit of light flow. An average living room light is 100 lux. The office you work in likely has fluorescent lighting which is 300-500 lux. When the sun is setting, it is 1,000 lux. On a sunny afternoon, the sun measures at 20,000-100,000 lux. That’s 50-100 times greater than your office or home lighting. The average light box is 10,000 lux which is comparative to being outside on a cloudy day.
8. Managing Stress Can Alleviate Symptoms of SADS
When you’re feeling exhausted and your mood deteriorates, it becomes more difficult to handle stress. This has the effect of pushing you deeper into depression. To try to minimize stress in the coming months, people with seasonal depression disorder should think ahead. Not taking projects that have stressful deadlines during the winter months is an example of this.
People with serious enough winter blues always plan a sunny vacation in the middle of the winter months. This can rejuvenate the body and mind and bring back some of your energy levels. You get rid of all the stress as well. Some may feel the need to take anti-anxiety medication for short-term relief.
9. Exercise Helps Reduce SAD Symptoms
A holistic SAD treatment includes regular exercise. Walking outdoors especially in the morning hours is recommended. If this isn’t possible, consider going to the gym and get your body moving. You raise the endorphins in your body which helps you feel happier. It combats the feelings of sadness or anxiety you’re experiencing and allows you to concentrate better.
Aerobic exercise promotes the heart rate to increase which improves your mood. SAD often leads to overeating but if you maintain a workout, you’ll promoting a healthy lifestyle. If you do eat more than usual, your workouts will balance out the extra calories. Exercise might seem like a simple remedy to a complex problem but it’s worth trying in lieu of antidepressants that can cause dependency.
10. SAD Talk Therapy
Depression distorts our reality so even if we have people around us, if they don’t understand what SAD feels like, you feel alone. Having a therapist to help you manage seasonal mood disorder can make you feel less lonely in your battle. All said and done, SAD is a form of depression and it you may feel like you’re drowning.
Cognitive behavior therapy (CBT) helps people with seasonal depression but also helps them to reduce chances of getting it again the following winter. Through certain actions, you can help yourself feel better. This helps stave off the winter blues you have this season and prevents you from experiencing them again.
11. SADS Can Make You Crave Sugar
Weight gain when you suffer from seasonal depression can be attributed to sugar cravings. The lack of light during winter months slows the release of serotonin. This is a brain chemical that affects your mood. Gaining weight is going to have an adverse effect on how you feel so it’s counterproductive.
When you eat foods that are sugary or rich in carbs, you increase serotonin. It’s important to eat healthy during the winter to keep energy up. While the sugar high might work temporarily, it does wear off which causes a drop in blood sugar leading to lethargy. Instead of sweet things, try to eat protein and nutrient rich foods for consistent energy levels.
12. Online SADS Tests
If you recognize you have lost energy in the autumn months and find it challenging to cope with winter, take a SAD test. You can do a self-assessment winter blues test which is a short questionnaire on a scale rating of 1-5.
There are a variety of SAD tests online to help you figure out if you suffer from seasonal depression.
13. You Can Get SADS Anytime of the Year
Perhaps one of the most surprising things about SAD is that you can get it in other seasons. Reverse seasonal affective disorder in spring or summer can occur. Studies show that the symptoms of summer depression and the winter blues are very different.
In the winter, you overeat and are always feeling exhausted. During the summer, you won’t feel hungry and you can’t sleep. This is why it can feel like summer anxiety specifically.
One in ten people that deal with seasonal affective disorder will experience summer depression. It isn’t exactly knows why people suffer from this season affective disorder summer variant but scientists think it could be too much light and the high temperatures.
14. SAD Can Lead to Addiction
There is a risk of co-occurring disorder when you suffer from any kind of depression. Whether its winter depression, summer depression, or major depression, you are more susceptible to becoming dependent on substances.
It’s been shown that those who are prone to depression are also prone to addiction. Your mood may prompt your desire to alter your mood so you can feel better. Depression is a constant feeling of hopelessness. If you find an antidepressant or street drug that can improve your mood, you’re more prone to use it.
Seasonal depression itself may be temporary but if you don’t manage it properly, it can cause permanent problems in your life. It can turn into major depression or you can fall victim to addiction. While prescription medications can serve as a helpful temporary solution, there is therapy that can help you get past seasonal affective disorder for good.