A particular kind of depression called seasonal affective disorder (SAD) is brought on by a shift in the seasons, typically as fall arrives and the long, warm days of summer become a thing of the past. Before fading in the brighter days of spring, this seasonal sadness develops stronger in the late autumn or winter. It is thought that SAD affects millions of people every year, although many might not even know that is something that plagues them.
What some people call the “winter blues” are a minor form of SAD. It’s typical to have some melancholy throughout the winter and even those who don’t suffer from SAD are known to do that. Given that it becomes dark early, you can be trapped inside, and the cold weather makes you feel sluggish and not able to go out and meet and hang with friends, the cold months of the year can lead to feeling “down”.
But complete SAD goes beyond this. This kind of depression is medically recognized and exists beyond just being “winter blues.” SAD impacts your daily life, such as how you think and feel unlike the winter blues. Thankfully, therapy can help those affected get through this difficult period. But before you can treat it, you must really know what SAD is.
What is Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD)?
Depression that only occurs during specific, usually winter, seasons or times of the year is known as seasonal affective disorder (SAD). Depression, of course, is a persistently depressed state that interferes with daily life.
If you suffer from SAD, you’ll frequently encounter depression specifically during certain seasons or due to a particular type of weather or climate. You can do it in the winter or the summer. While there are many people who suffer from some sort of negative feelings during the coldest months of the year, SAD goes beyond that and it’s important to note when the symptoms of this disorder start.
When Does SAD start?
As expected, SAD usually begins around the last Fall and lasts until typically early Spring. The first signs and symptoms of SAD will present themselves around the time that the weather begins to dip and the colder wind and rain come in for the year. If you suffer from SAD, you may notice these depressed feelings right around the time you begin to wear your sweaters and rain coats and scarves.
While some people begin to feel the effects of SAD when the weather gets cold, some are also known to experience them when the sun isn’t around as much. Therefore, even if you live in a warm climate, the shorter days of fall and early Winter could be indicative of when you’ll experience SAD.
Some people think that they know exactly what SAD happens and what causes it but, actually, the jury is still out about the catalyst behind SAD.
Causes of SAD
The unfortunate truth is that no one really knows what causes SAD.
Some scientists and doctors agree that it occurs due to a chemical change in the brain that happens with less sunlight exposure. Therefore, there really is a correlation between less sun and more depression. The body will naturally produce more melatonin at night and when the days are shorter. Melatonins is responsible for creating feelings of fatigue, so when there is more darkness, you are more likely to feel tired and lethargic, which can be tied to depression.
There are those who propose that SAD is caused by the added stress and worry that comes with the winter time of the year, when holidays are approaching, family expectations are high, budgets are strained, and work and travel is busier. However, there is no definitive proof that this is true.
Right now, there is still much more to learn about SAD. However, scientists do agree that it is a legitimate disorder and not just a case of someone feeling “blue” or “down” around winter time. It is a valid psychological condition and should be treated like one. And that means that you should be aware of the symptoms of SAD so you can better combat it if it affects you.
Symptoms of SAD
The symptoms of SAD, unsurprisingly, are a lot like the symptoms of more common, regular depressions. For example, those who suffer from SAD are likely to experience:
• Loss of interest in hobbies and pastimes, even those you participated in often
• Increased sensitivity to criticism or rejection from others
• A feeling of wanting to withdraw from social situations and events and friend circles
• Increased anxiety as well as increased irritability too
• Feelings of hopelessness, guilt, and sadness
• Decreased libido
• Difficulty concentrating
• Change in appetite, usually revolving around eating far, far less
• Tendency to oversleep or feel fatigued and always wanting to be in bed
• Heavy feelings in both the arms and legs or only arms or legs
Those who suffer from SAD generally mention a feeling of being “drained’ and not having the drive or stamina to do much of anything, even regular everyday tasks. And the feelings may gradually build overtime, with the middle of winter being the time that they are strongest and more noticeable. However, some people have been known to start experiencing even severe symptoms weeks and even a few months ahead of the cold part of the year.
How many people are really affected by SAD and who is more likely to suffer from it? This is something that doctors have been studying more and more over the years as the disorder has proven to be more widespread and common across the world.
Generally, it is thought that SAD affects older individuals and those over the age of 20. Therefore, it isn’t very likely that a young child or teenager will suffer from the disorder.
Additionally, it has been found that SAD is more likely in men than in women, although there are millions in both genders who experience SAD.
Finally it has been reported that up to 5% of Americans say that they suffer from SAD at least once. That number is likely under-reporting, as many people are probably not even aware that they have SAD. This is due to the fact that many people are taught from a young age that feeling sad and low and depressed during winter is just something normal that happens to everyone and it shouldn’t be noted or worrisome. However, as mentioned, SAD is a real disorder just like depression and can be treated with proper care.
Treatment for Patients with SAD
The good thing about SAD is that there are now many proven methods that can combat it and make it less impactful on your life if you happen to suffer from it.
Light therapy, also known as pho therapy, is a treatment used to fight off SAD because it mimics the light of the sun. By using strong, unique, cutting-edge lighting systems, your brain will feel as if it is out in the sun. Studies have shown that SAD might be caused by a lack of sun so light therapy is a great way to stay indoors during the cold while still making yourself feel better.
This is another method that people rely on for stopping SAD every year. Exercise is good for many reasons, including making you more physically fit. However, working out or getting your heart racing for at least a few minutes a day will do a lot to stop SAD in its tracks. The good news is that you don’t have to work out too much to combat SAD. Additionally, it will also make your physical health better too. Many doctors prescribe exercise before giving any sort of medication to stop SAD. That is because exercise produces serotonin and endorphins which typically help depression.
There is nothing wrong with someone taking medication to combat SAD just as they do to stop depression too. In fact, anti depression medication might be needed, especially if SAD symptoms become very strong.
Cognitive-behavioral therapy is a method of therapy that can combat SAD, as well as other pressing and depressing thoughts. This school of therapy is all about taking negative thoughts, deconstructing them, and then replacing them with more positive thoughts as well as ways to fight them later.
Differences Between SAD and Depression
The biggest difference between SAD and depression is that SAD usually always starts in a certain season whereas depression can last all year long. Additionally, depression never lets the patient feel happy or lead a normal life at times.
However, SAD and depression can both be severe and should be treated seriously. But how can that be done?
How Can Caregivers Help Those with SAD?
If you are a caregiver looking after someone suffering from SAD, you have a few options to stop the disorder from overtaking their lives. The most popular and well-known and reliable ways to help those with SAD is to suggest and help with walks and exercise often. The patient might not get a lot of sunlight but they will get some so that will help.
Additionally, it is advised that you recommend a patient use a light box to mimic the light of the sun in their own homes. Again, SAD seems to be caused by a lack of sunlight so a light box will go a long way to stopping its symptoms from getting too bad.
Some people feel that SAD is just a common occurrence that comes with the winter and should be tolerated and might not even be that serious. But the truth is that SAD is a form of legitimate depression. Therefore, it should be tackled just like regular depression is.
While not everyone needs to take medication to stop SAD, they should always do whatever is necessary to fight it. SAD can be very serious and should not be treated lightly or just something that comes with every winter and doesn’t need addressing.