Seasonal affective disorder is a type of recurring depression that causes people to experience often-debilitating mood changes. Cyclical in nature, seasonal affective disorder â€” also called “seasonal depression” â€” is most common during the fall and winter months, as the nights grow long and sunlight exposure decreases.
In about one tenth of cases, people exhibit SAD symptoms during the spring and summer, possibly in response to high heat and humidity. This condition is sometimes referred to as “reverse SAD.” Depression is usually not associated with this form of the disorder, though it is equally serious.
The depressive state that often characterizes SAD can have a dramatic, negative impact on the sufferer’s ability to function on a day-to-day basis. Fortunately, a number of treatment options are available for treating depression and SAD. While people with mild cases of seasonal affective disorder might benefit from simply spending more time outside, medication and therapy may be necessary for those with more severe symptoms.
Symptoms of SAD
The symptoms of winter-onset seasonal affective disorder can include any combination of the list below. The symptoms often mimic those of depression, and include:
- Appetite changes
- Changes in eating habits
- Difficulty concentrating
- Feelings of hopelessness, indifference and lethargy
- Social withdrawal.
Coping with Depression and SAD
Fortunately, a number of treatment options are available for those suffering from seasonal depression. If you experience SAD, try some or all of the following to deal with your depression symptoms:
- Brighten your spaces: Make your home and office as bright as possible. Open your blinds and consider installing skylights.
- Exercise: Regular physical exercise helps relieve SAD symptoms, including anxiety and stress. As an added bonus, being in shape can help boost your self-esteem.
- Follow a healthy lifestyle: Drugs and alcohol can worsen depressive symptoms. Eat a balanced diet, avoid drugs and drink in moderation to promote mental health and ward off depression.
- Follow your treatment plan: Once you and your doctor have formulated a plan of treatment, stick to it. This means taking medications on time, if applicable, and attending scheduled therapy sessions. Though experts speculate SAD has biological causes, therapy can teach you ways to cope with stress and negative thoughts.
- Learn to manage stress: Being overly stressed can worsen depression. Learn and practice stress-reduction techniques, such as relaxation therapy or meditation.
- Stay connected: Removing yourself from your support system of family and friends will only make your condition more unbearable. Stay in touch with friends and family who you enjoy being around.
- Take a walk: In cold winter months, people tend to spend more time indoors, which can worsen depression. Try to get outside when the sun is shining.
Depression Guide. (2010). Disorders and conditions related to depression. Retrieved July 13, 2007 from http://www.depression-guide.com/disorders.htm.
American Psychiatric Association. (2010). Seasonal affective disorder. Retrieved July 10, 2010 from http://healthyminds.org/Main-Topic/Seasonal-Affective-Disorder.aspx.
Mayo Clinic. (2007). Seasonal affective disorder (SAD). Retrieved July 10, 2010 from http://www.mayoclinic.com/health/seasonal-affective-disorder/DS00195.
National Alliance on Mental Illness. (2010). Seasonal affective disorder. Retrieved July 13, 2010 from http://www.nami.org/Content/ContentGroups/Helpline1/Seasonal_Affective_Disorder_(SAD).htm.