Know the Signs of Seasonal Affective Disorder

Portrait of a lonely girl in park

Seasonal changes in temperature during Fall and Winter can affect millions of Americans with seasonal depression. Also known as seasonal affective disorder (SAD), or the “winter blues,” nearly 5 percent of the Americans experience it, and four out of five people who have seasonal depression are women, according to Mental Health America. This Fall it’s important to recognize the signs.

Fall and Winter bring a reduced level of sunlight that can affect your serotonin, a neurotransmitter that affects mood. Depression has been linked to lower levels of serotonin. Melatonin, a sleep-related hormone that can affect mood and sleep patterns has been linked to seasonal depression as well. Melatonin is produced at increased levels in the dark, so now that the days are growing darker and shorter, the production of melatonin in your body will increase. Melatonin can affect your “biological clock,” or circadian rhythm, which can cause irregular sleeping and waking patterns, and result in symptoms associated with seasonal depression.

Symptoms of Seasonal Affective Disorder

Per Mental Health America, some of the specific symptoms of seasonal depression include:

  • Social problems: irritability and desire to avoid social contact
  • Sexual problems: loss of libido and decreased interest in physical contact
  • Overeating: craving for starchy and sweet foods resulting in weight gain
  • Lethargy: feeling of fatigue and inability to carry out normal routine
  • Sleep problems: desire to oversleep and difficulty staying awake or, sometimes, disturbed sleep and early morning waking
  • Mood changes: extremes of mood and, in some, periods of mania in spring and summer
  • Anxiety: tension and inability to tolerate stress
  • Depression: misery, guilt, loss of self-esteem, hopelessness, diminished interest in activities, despair, and apathy

Treatments for Seasonal Depression

Phototherapy, or light therapy, can help suppress the brain’s secretion of melatonin, according to Mental Health America. Other alternatives, such as antidepressant drugs can also be used to reduce or eliminate SAD symptoms. Make sure you discuss options with your doctor.

Along with checking in with your physician, there are some proven ways to help you feel happier and more energetic. If the season has you feeling sluggish, try:

  • Participating in social activities. Being social can do wonders for alleviating depression and stress. Make sure to make plans with friends or family whenever you can this Fall.
  • Being productive during your free time. When you’re not working, and have some time for yourself, fill it with activities like reading a novel, playing games or working on puzzles, or getting around to some projects you’ve put on the back burner. Being productive will keep your mind occupied.
  • Staying active. Exercise can keep your immune system in check, help reduce tension and stress, and make you feel good, so try to work out a few times a week.
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