Are you SAD this season?: What is Seasonal Affective Disorder?
Fall is my favorite season hands down. I love the foliage: the holidays that approach, the food, the pumpkin patches, even the smell of the air. Here in California our summers are so long that we wait anxiously for the start of the fall to finally bring out those sweaters we stashed away in our closet. The changes in season however can also have a negative effect on some people. Changes in seasons bring changes in weather, mood, and even changes in our daily habits and energy. It is no surprise that the fall and winter seasons also come with changes in spending. We have Halloween, Thanksgiving, Christmas, and New Year, and with these holidays it is no wonder some may feel a bit overwhelmed. Summer is usually more relaxed and we “stop and smell the flowers” a bit more, or blow on some dandelions 🙂
I know I joke around about all the spending getting us down this season, but I would like to touch on a very important phenomenon that occurs also with the changes in season. I want to talk to you all about Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD). Is this not an acronym that is easy to remember? In this post I want to go over common symptoms of SAD as well as ways that we may be able to cope with it.
I mentioned that fall is my favorite season, as maybe it is for many people, however, there are those who may feel negative effects to their mood. I am not talking about the laziness we feel in the mornings during the winter, or the hassle we feel when we have to wake up extra early just to warm up our cars. I am talking about mental changes that may lead to a negative or unhealthy state of mind. Let’s get started.
What is Seasonal Affective Disorder?
According to researchers (see references below) SAD is a recurrent type of major depression, that is, people who experience SAD will typically experience it very often or more than once in their life (2 years in a row for most diagnoses) It can also be referred to as “Winter Depression.” Here are a little more included facts about SAD
- Typically occurs in the winter season, although some people claim to feel its effects in fall and it may usually subside or lessen in the spring.
- It is a subtype of major depression so it can be confused with other forms of depression.
- It reportedly affects 2-8% of the population in Europe according to research, and numbers may be due to latitude or location. (This I found interesting)
- Like mentioned before, those who suffer from SAD will typically have a recurrent episode again next fall/winter.
- Ages of onset can be 15-55, but can also be familiar (someone in your family suffers from it)
What Causes SAD?
- It is thought to be triggered or brought on by changes in light exposure during the colder seasons, which typically have less sunlight.
- Biochemical changes in the brain, specifically changes in brain transmitters (these transmitters can also be affected by our diet).
- More common in women but again… it is not a disorder or condition that is only for one gender or sex.
- Can be related to where we live, especially if we are less exposed to sunlight.
Signs of SAD
SAD is mainly accompanied by impaired psychosocial functioning (relationships, communication, social aspects of life) during the winter season. This may cause or affect changes such as:
- Depressed mood
- Change in sleep pattern or sleep habits
- Eating and weight changes
- Difficulty concentrating
- Increased stress
- Decreased enjoyment of everyday activities
Possible Suggested Treatments for SAD according to research.
- Light exposure, or “Light Therapy,” specifically bright light or blue light have been shown to improve the state of sufferers.
- Lifestyle and diet changes
- Psychological interventions such as therapy or counseling.
- Cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT). This type of therapy aims at changing maladaptive thoughts in order to influence changes in behavior.
My suggested tips for prevention as well as treatment
- Get help! Learn to recognize signs in yourself. We know ourselves a lot more than we know. Trust you!
- Find online support groups if you cannot afford counseling, or speak to your medical professional about possible resources.
- Learn to minimize the effects. If you know you are prone to other types of depression or are easily affected by changes in your environment try to make some changes prior to seasonal changes
- This can be as easy as adopting a new positive hobby, or as drastic as changing your whole diet.
- Let people in. Let others around you know that these months are a little hard for you. Yes it could be very hard to be vulnerable but remember… you are NEVER the first person to go through something, you may just be the FIRST to speak up.
- Be aware. Know that this will pass… and you CAN manage and at times eliminate these feelings. The mind is like the body… it needs to be trained and can get stronger. Use that to your advantage!
- Find someone who will just listen. Hey I am here! Let’s chat!
- Have some fun!! Do something you would not normally do!!
Ok so you might be telling yourself…well these are all common things we all go through these months. I know I mentioned some of the things that may have us down these months such as our economic changes, or changes in eating habits as a result of all that yummy food, but SAD is not just typical signs. Mental health is of course important and we may all feel some of these signs once in a while when we are having an off day. I do however want to differentiate between the more severe cases. Here we are talking about these symptoms as something that greatly affects or impairs daily functioning. What is described in the symptoms for SAD is not a minor feeling of sadness, or irritability. It is typically something that will greatly affect relationships, functioning, mood and well-being.
I wanted to make this post precisely around these months because sometimes we get so busy that we forget to access our selves. We may dismiss things as typical or not a big deal, but I wanted to spread awareness that there are definitely ways to help ourselves be better and function to our optimal potential. I also wanted to hopefully bring awareness about these topics in mental health especially during the holidays. We often look at people during these months and we expect everyone to be jolly. We go shopping and times we encounter people with not so positive moods and instead of trying to understand them we may add to their stress. We judge them, we maybe ostracize them. Let us all be a little more aware of other’s states and health.
Hope that the information was both helpful as well as informative. If you learned something new let me know! Feel free to share, comment, or subscribe. I would love to know what you would like to learn about next.
Be Scientists! Check out the references.
Evans, M., Rohan, K. J., Sitnikov, L., Mahon, J. N., Nillni, Y. I., Tierney Lindsey, K., & Vacek, P. M. (2013). Cognitive Change Across Cognitive-Behavioral and Light Therapy Treatments for Seasonal Affective Disorder: What Accounts for Clinical Status the Next Winter?. Cognitive Therapy & Research, 37(6), 1201-1213. doi:10.1007/s10608-013-9561-0
Nussbaumer-Streit, B., Winkler, D., Spies, M., Kasper, S., & Pjrek, E. (2017). Prevention of seasonal affective disorder in daily clinical practice: results of a survey in German-speaking countries. BMC Psychiatry, 171-9. doi:10.1186/s12888-017-1403-2