What Is Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD)?

Seasonal Affective Disorder

What Causes Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD)?

Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD) is an older term for a seasonal pattern of Major Depressive Disorder (MDD). It is a mental illness that causes depression and is usually brought on by seasonal changes. The ailment is most common throughout the winter. Women, teens, and young adults are the most commonly affected. Some people may experience a mild form of SAD. It`s natural to feel sad during the winter months. Full-blown SAD, on the other hand, is a sort of depression. SAD affects your daily life, including how you feel and think, unlike the winter blues.

What Causes Seasonal Affective Disorder?

The exact cause of SAD is unknown. People who don`t get enough sunlight are prone to this illness. There a number of other causes; let`s take a look.

Biological Clock Change

A person`s biological clock adjusts as they are less exposed to sunlight. Mood, sleep, and hormones are all controlled by this biological clock. People may have difficulty regulating their moods when it shifts.

Melatonin Boost

Melatonin is a hormone that regulates sleep cycles. Some people may produce too much melatonin due to inadequate exposure to sunshine. During the winter,
they may feel sleepy and tired.

Chemical Imbalance in the Brain

Neurotransmitters are substances in the brain that communicate between nerves. Serotonin is one of these molecules, and it leads to feelings of happiness. Serotonin activity reduces in people at risk of SAD. Because sunshine helps in the regulation of serotonin, inadequate sunlight during the winter months can exacerbate the problem. Serotonin levels can drop, even more, causing mood swings.

Risk Factors of Seasonal Affective Disorder

  • Having relatives that suffer from other mental illnesses, such as depression or schizophrenia
  • People who suffer from a mood disorder such as bipolar disorder or major
    depressive disorder
  • Living in places with high latitudes (northern latitudes), such as Alaska or New England
  • Living in a cloudy area

Symptoms of Seasonal Affective Disorder

SAD symptoms often begin in October or November and last until March or April, though it can affect people differently. Symptoms may appear before or after this time, though. There are two types of seasonal affective disorder (SAD): winter and summer.

Symptoms of SAD During Winter

  • Weariness during the day
  • Feelings of despondency
  • Lack of concentration
  • Irritation
  • Loss of interest in social activities
  • Laziness
  • Decreased sexual arousal
  • Discontentment
  • Weight gain

Symptoms of SAD During Summer

  • Upheaval
  • Sleeping problems
  • Increased agitation
  • Inability to eat
  • Weight loss
  • Suicidal thoughts can occur in patients with SAD in severe cases

How to Diagnose Seasonal Affective Disorder

hospitalYour medical or mental health expert may conduct a complete examination to help
diagnose SAD. Here are some steps.

Body Examination

Your doctor may do a physical examination and inquire about your health in detail. Depression can link to an underlying physical health issue in some circumstances.

Lab Tests

Your doctor may perform a complete blood count (CBC) test to ensure that your thyroid is operating appropriately.

Psychological Assessment

Your doctor or mental health expert will ask about your symptoms, thoughts, feelings, and behavior patterns to screen for indicators of depression.

How to Treat Seasonal Affective Disorder

Cognitive Behavioral Treatment (CBT)

CBT is a kind of talk therapy that can help people with SAD. In this therapy, sufferers learn the following:

  • Recognize and alter any negative ideas or behaviors that are making you feel bad.
  • Learn how to cope with SAD healthily, including lowering avoidance behavior
    and planning activities.
  • Learn how to cope with stress.

Research shows that CBT has the longest-lasting impacts of any treatment method.

Light Therapy

You can treat SAD with bright light therapy, using a specific lamp. A particular lamp is required to use light treatment, also known as phototherapy. It contains white fluorescent light tubes that are protected from UV rays by a plastic screen. The light is approximately 20 times brighter than ordinary indoor lighting. The brightness of the light should be 10,000 lux. Be sure not to stare straight at the light during phototherapy. While you read, eat, or do other things, place the lamp approximately 2 or 3 feet away. The way you utilize light therapy may have an impact on its effectiveness. Morning light therapy appears to be more effective. Additionally, taking it later in the day may result in sleeplessness. Many health experts recommend exposing yourself to 10,000 lux for 15 to 30 minutes every morning. Although this therapy is typically safe, there are some exceptions. If you fall in any of these categories, please avoid light therapy.

Diabetes or Retinopathy

If you have diabetes or retinopathy, you run the risk of damaging your retina, which is the back of your eye. Certain antibiotics and anti-inflammatories can make you more susceptible to sunlight. As a result, light therapy may be harmful.

Bipolar Disorder

If you have bipolar disorder, bright light treatment might cause hypomania or mania, which are uncontrollable mood and energy swings. The use of light therapy by people with bipolar disorder requires physician supervision.

Use of Antidepressant Medication

Healthcare providers may prescribe antidepressant medications alone or in combination with light therapy to treat depression.

Mind-Body Strategies

  • Relaxation exercises such as yoga or tai chi
  • Meditation
  • Guided imagery
  • Art or music therapy

Spend Time Outside

friendsExposure to more sunlight can help alleviate symptoms. Make an effort to get out during the day to get some sunlight. You should also make efforts to increase the amount of light that gets into your home or office as well.

How to Prevent Seasonal Affective Disorder

You may not be able to avoid the first episode of SAD, however, after your doctor has diagnosed you with seasonal depression, you can take these steps to prevent a reoccurrence.

Use a Lightbox

Begin using light treatment at the start of the fall season, before you get SAD symptoms.

Eat a Well-Balanced Diet

Avoid starchy and sweet foods, even if your body craves them. A balanced diet rich in vitamins and minerals can provide you with the energy you require.

Get Outside

Even if it’s cloudy, spend time outside every day. You can feel better by exposing yourself to natural light.


Exercise and other forms of physical activity can help alleviate tension and anxiety, and these are two factors that can increase SAD symptoms. Being in better shape might also help you feel better about yourself, which can improve your mood. Try exercising at least thrice a week.

Visit Friends

Maintain your social circle and participate in regular activities. They can be of assistance during the winter months.

Complications of Seasonal Affective Disorder

Take seasonal affective disorder’s signs and symptoms seriously. If not addressed,
SAD, like other types of depression, can worsen and cause complications such as:

  • Withdrawal from social interactions
  • Issues at school or work
  • Abuse of substances
  • Could lead to other mental issues such as anxiety and eating disorders

Now that you Know…

Seek the advice of a competent medical expert if you suspect you are suffering from SAD symptoms. It’s critical to rule out other medical conditions that could be generating symptoms, just as it is with other types of depression. In the context of hypothyroidism, hypoglycemia, infectious mononucleosis, and other viral illnesses, SAD might be misdiagnosed, thus careful examination is essential. A mental health expert can help you assess the problem and talk about treatment choices.