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Symptoms and Causes of Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD)

Symptoms and Causes of Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD)

Do you find yourself feeling down and unmotivated in the winter months? Many people experience feelings of sadness from time to time, especially as the days get shorter. But in some cases, these changes in mood are severe and negatively affect our quality of life, including relationships, work, and daily activities. 

This condition is known as Seasonal Depression, or Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD). It is a type of depression characterized by recurrent seasonal patterns, with symptoms persisting for 4-5 months per year (sometimes during the summer months). People who live farther from the equator are more likely to experience Seasonal Affective Disorder. Younger people are also at a higher risk, and women are three times as likely to experience SAD as men. 

Signs of SAD to look out for include:

1. Feeling sad most of the day, almost every day

2. Experiencing fatigue and a lack of motivation

3. Having trouble concentrating

4. Loss of interest in activities you once enjoyed

5. Difficulty with sleep (either sleeping too much or too little)

6. Feeling hopeless or worthless most of the time

7. Often feeling irritable or cranky

8. Withdrawing from friends and family

9. Having suicidal ideation frequently 

10. Having a loss of appetite or overeating

The exact cause of SAD is unclear, but research points to a few potential risk factors. First, decreased exposure to sunlight in the winter months may disrupt the body’s internal clock (known as our circadian rhythm), which could lead to the brain producing less serotonin. Known as the mood-regulating hormone, lower serotonin levels could result in feelings of depression. Another potential cause of SAD is the disruption of melatonin levels in your body, which can occur as the seasons change. Melatonin plays a vital role in regulating sleep patterns and mood. 

If you or someone you know is experiencing SAD, here are a few tips that might help:

1. Try behavioral activation: Do one thing for yourself that brings enjoyment and meaning to your life. It can be something as simple as getting dressed, something you know is good for you, like taking a shower or stretching your body, or something with emotional value, like calling a loved one. We often wait to feel better or motivated before we doing something, but depression limits our motivation and tells our brain to withdraw from everything. The goal is to go against the things that depression tells us. Start with one small activity, and work at building up over time.

2. Try light therapy: This therapy involves exposure to a bright light every day to make up for the loss of natural sunshine in the winter months by sitting in front of a very bright light box for up to 45 minutes at a time. We would encourage you to consult with a healthcare professional about whether this intervention is the right fit for you.

3. Use a melatonin supplement to help regulate sleep patterns: Melatonin supplements are a safe and drug-free way to get a deep, restorative sleep every night. 

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