We have now made it towards the end of the year. We watched the weather heat up during the month of May, letting us walk around through out the spring and summer season with our arms bare and our skin glowing with the sun’s rays. Then we transitioned into the fall. The leaves on the trees changed their mood; showcasing red, orange, yellow, and brown hues as they fell to the ground. We saw families put pumpkins in front of their windows, getting ready for the night when ghosts and goblins walk from house to house collecting their sugary loot. With the shift in seasons, the air shifts in tune as well; with the weather calling for jackets and gloves. At the moment, it is about fifteen or sixteen degrees; a stark contrast from the seventy degree weather us Chicagoans were still getting in the middle of September. We were practically begging for the weather to get colder. Well now it’s here, and while some of us are embracing the slightly bitter cold with our Ugg boots on our feet and plaid scarves wrapped around our necks, others are struggling to grasp Mother Nature’s changes. Sometimes, it can psychologically bring us down. There’s a reason for that, and it has a name.
Seasonal Affective Disorder, or SAD is a type of depression that occurs due to the changes in seasons. Typically, it begins to set in at around late fall to early winter, but by spring and summer it usually goes away. Now, that does not mean that episodes can not take place during seasons with warmer climates…it just isn’t as common. There are a few tell-tale signs that may indicate that you may be experiencing bouts of seasonal depression, some may include:
- if your depression persists nearly every day for most of the day
- there’s a loss in the activities that you once enjoyed
- insomnia or difficulties sleeping
- hypersomnia or irregular sleep pattern
- increase or decrease in weight
- a drastic change in appetite and abnormal cravings
- feeling rather sluggish or fatigued
- heightened agitation
- having a hard time focusing
- violent outbursts
Remember, just because you exhibit one of the symptoms on this list, it doesn’t mean that you have Seasonal Affective Disorder. However, if the symptom you exhibit is disrupting your way of life and your mental health, you may want to seek some professional mental help. There may be some other factors that may increase your chances of having SAD. For instance, if you’re a woman, it is four times more likely that you will be diagnosed with it than men. If you live further from the equator, then there is a higher chance that you may get it, or if you have a family history of depression or bipolar disorder. Also, age plays a factor too. Younger adults are more affected by SAD. Children and adolescents shouldn’t be overlooked either, they too can experience Seasonal Affective Disorder as well.
Christmas time and holiday cheer may be a positive point during the winter, as well as the whims fall brings, the growth spring attracts, and the warmth of summer, but people with SAD don’t get a chance to experience all of that, and it isn’t that they don’t want to, their brains have a hard time letting them. People with SAD may have difficulty regulating their serotonin. Serotonin is the key hormone that stabilizes a person’s mood. This is a pretty important hormone; it practically controls your entire body. Serotonin helps brain cells and other nervous system cells communicate with each other. It is found in your stomach as well as your intestines; aiding eating, sleeping, and digestion. It even helps heal your wounds, triggering tiny arteries to narrow, forming blood clots. Serotonin is great, but there can always be too much of a good thing. Too much serotonin can lead to depression and excessive nerve cell activity. It may also lower your arousal. Low levels of serotonin can be associated with emotional and behavioral disorders such as suicidal thoughts, anxiety, and OCD. Having high levels of serotonin can lead to osteoporosis; making your bones weaker. Some symptoms of increased serotonin are shivering, high blood pressure, diarrhea, twitching muscles, high fever unconsciousness, seizures, and irregular heartbeat.
Seasonal Affective Disorder may make you feel heavy during the holidays, but there are plenty of ways to manage it.
Selective Serotonin Reuptake Inhibitors or SSRI’s can be given to people who are dealing with SAD. Some take certain antidepressants like bupropion, which can also be taken to help people stop smoking. It may take a while to find the right medicine for you; all of them do not affect each person the same. Some of these medications may cause some pretty severe side effects. This article by the National Institute of Mental Health helps you understand some of your medications just a little better (https://www.nimh.nih.gov/health/topics/mental-health-medications/index.shtml).
I hadn’t heard of this one before, but apparently it has been used to treat SAD since the 1980’s. This is typically used during the months that contain shorter days and colder weather. The whole idea is to mimic and replace the diminished sunlight of the fall and winter months. This helps the patient get a higher dose of Vitamin D. Vitamin D helps regulate your immune system and nervous system, and of course the brain. It also helps combat some of the symptoms that come with having too much serotonin, like weak bones and teeth. Some people are told to sit in a well lit area to soak up the sun or a light box for about 20 to 60 minutes. A light box blocks out ultraviolet rays. Ultraviolet rays can damage your skin creating premature wrinkles and in more serious cases skin cancer. A light box exposes a person to at least 10,000 lux, an SI unit of illuminance that’s equal to one lumen per square meter. It is more than twenty times the amount of light you would get by being indoors. You would do this first thing in the morning between late fall and early spring.
Cognitive Behavioral Therapy or CBT is a widely used method; they even have a specific method for SAD called CBT-SAD. It identifies negative thoughts while trying to switch them with positive thoughts using a technique called behavioral action. Remembering and doing the things that make the person happy may be a positive way to let the person cope during their episodes.
It was talked about a little in the Light Therapy section, but Vitamin D is good for your body. The sun is the most natural source, but you can also buy supplements at your local grocery store.
It doesn’t matter what time of year it is or where you are, people show a wide array of emotions every single day. However, for some of us, some of those emotions aren’t so jovial, and it can be a lot harder to overcome, especially during certain times of the year. It may seem difficult, but there are many ways to combat seasonal depression and manage it, you just have to find the right method for you.