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Seasonal Affective Disorder

Seasonal affective disorder is a condition that is associated with changes in seasonal patterns. You are likely to experience SAD during winter, and the condition commences and ends at the same period every year.

SAD is most common in women, adolescents, and people who have a family history of the condition. Did you know that about 5 % of the US population experiences SAD every year, and higher prevalence is on the northern latitude? Yes, people who live in areas that have long winter nights due to high latitudes are more likely to experience the condition.

Causes of Seasonal affective disorder

There is no proven cause of the condition, and the contributing factors may vary from one person to another. The leading theory is that the levels of light influence SAD. Reduced sunlight may affect the body in the following ways.

A decrease in serotonin levels.

Reduced sunlight may result in a drop in serotonin levels, which may initiate depression. Serotonin chemicals are also responsible for affecting our mood.

    • A decrease in melatonin levels.

The changes in seasons may decrease melatonin levels, which have a significant role in how we sleep and moods.

    • Disruption of the circadian rhythm.

The low levels of sunlight during winter may interrupt your body’s internal clock and lead to depression. The internal clock is responsible for regulating hormones, sleep, and moods.

    • Family history

Family history is another leading cause of seasonal affective depression; thus, people who have a history of physiological conditions are at a greater risk of getting SAD.

What are the symptoms of Seasonal affective disorder?

SAD symptoms usually begin at the start of winter and fade away as we approach the sunny days of winter and summer. That is during the commencement of October and November and ends in March and April. We have two main categories of SAD symptoms, i.e. wintertime and summer symptoms.

Wintertime symptoms.

    • Reduced sexual interest.
    • Daytime fatigue and experiencing low energies.
    • Feelings of hopelessness.
    • Loss of interest in the things that you enjoyed doing previously.
    • Increase in weight.
    • Increased irritability and unhappiness.
    • Concentrating becomes a challenge.

Summer symptoms.

    • Changes in the sleeping patterns.
    • Increased restlessness.
    • Feelings of anger, anxiety, and agitation.
    • Loss of appetite

Diagnosis of seasonal affective disorder?

A doctor may rule out several tests, as other mental health conditions may have similar symptoms. The following steps are involved when diagnosing SAD

    • Physical examination.

Your doctor will do a physical examination of your body and ask various questions about your health, as depression can be associated with physical health.

    • Laboratories test.

The doctor may perform a thyroid hormone testing with a simple blood test to make sure that your thyroid works perfectly.

    • Physiological evaluation.

The doctor may perform a physiological evaluation where the patient is required to fill in questions regarding the symptoms that they are feeling, their thoughts, and behavioral patterns.

How is seasonal affective disorder treated?

Both winter and summer SAD conditions can be treated by following the following methods.

    • Adequate lighting.

Ensure that you spend time exposing yourself to the light, as just a small dose of sunlight will help you to increase your serotonin and melatonin levels, thus enhancing your moods and sleep patterns. Painting the walls with a light color and using a daylight stimulation bulb may also help in treating the condition.

You can do light therapy. The process mimics the outdoor light and will significantly help to boost your moods.  It would be best to do light therapy under the doctor’s supervision and also ensure that you use the approved devices. Avoid using tanning beds as light sources as they are not safe. Some recommended light therapy devices include

    • Lightbox

A lightbox delivers a light intensity of up to ten times more than the standard domestic lighting. The light emitted is usually filtered out by any harmful ultraviolet rays. You can sit a few steps from the lightbox to ensure that you are exposed to sunlight immediately after you wake up; however, doctors don’t recommend the use of the device for a person who has bipolar disorder.

    • Dawn stimulator

The device will help you to light up your bedroom during the morning hours. You no longer have to wake up in the darkness as the device will brighten up your room for a period of thirty to forty-five minutes, hence improve your moods and your internal clock.

    • Healthy eating habits

Proper nutrition will help you to keep the condition in control. Always ensure that you take a well-balanced diet and include fruits, lean proteins, and vegetables to help you increase your energy levels and brighten up your moods. The diets that you can include in your meals include brown rice, oatmeal, and bananas to help boost your serotonin levels and increase the intake of omega-three fats to help promote the effectiveness of anti-depressant drugs and even improve your mood.

    • Regular exercises.

Regular exercises will help you to treat the condition. With constant activities, there will be no longer a need to take anti-depressant medication. For the results to be effective, you should consider doing exercises in the natural light. Regular exercise will help you improve your serotonin levels, improve your moods and ensure that you get quality sleep.

    • Medication

Some people may use medications such as anti-depressants. Common drugs used include fluoxetine and bupropion.  It’s essential to use anti-depressants before the indicators begin each year.

    • Psychotherapy

The process mainly aims at shifting people’s thoughts and behaviors to fight the symptoms. You can engage in cognitive-behavioral therapy to help detect negative thoughts and behavioral patterns that might make you feel worse, learn how to manage stress, and learn about some healthy ways to help cope with the condition.

SAD is a condition that is mainly linked with inadequate lighting, and the risk of getting the condition is higher in case your family history has experienced it. SAD is most common during the winter period, with some symptoms being a loss of appetite, anger, anxiety, and low concentration. You can get treatment through exercising regularly, taking medication, living healthy lifestyles, and psychotherapy. If you experience the symptoms, you need to see a doctor, therapist, or psychiatrist.

Sources 1: https://www.mayoclinic.org/diseases-conditions/seasonal-affective-disorder/symptoms-causes/syc-20364651
sources 2: nami.org/About-NAMI/NAMI-News/2013/Less-Sunlight-Means-More-Blues-for-Some