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Seasonal Affective Disorder: How to Combat SAD in 2020

Seasonal affective disorder (SAD) is a unique type of depression that relates to the changing of seasons. The condition begins and ends around the same time each year. Like most people struggling with SAD, the symptoms will start in the fall and persist into the winter months, stealing your energy and causing moodiness. Less often, although possible, SAD will cause depression in the spring or early summer. 

Fortunately, because of how common the condition is, various treatment types exist. Depending on the case, a physician may suggest light therapy (phototherapy), psychotherapy, or medications. Only a doctor can make this recommendation. 

If you’re experiencing a case of what you consider to be the “winter blues,” it’s crucial you don’t push it aside as a seasonal funk you need to get through on your own. You must take the necessary steps to combat SAD to keep your motivation and mood steady all year.

Symptoms of Seasonal Affective Disorder

As was mentioned above, seasonal affective disorder is most likely to pop up in late fall or early winter and subside when the sun comes out in spring and summer. No matter when it starts, the symptoms could start mildly and worsen in severity as the season progresses. 

The most common signs and symptoms of seasonal affective disorder include: 

  • Experiencing low energy
  • Experiencing depression most of the day, almost every day
  • Having issues with your sleep cycles
  • Losing interest in activities you once found joy
  • Feeling agitated or sluggish
  • Noticing changes in your weight or appetite
  • Inability to concentrate
  • Feeling worthless, guilty, or hopeless
  • Experiencing frequent thoughts of death or suicide

The most common signs and symptoms of seasonal affective disorder include: 

Fall and Winter Seasonal Affective Disorder

The most common symptoms persistent with winter-onset SAD, often referred to as winter depression, include:

  • Weight gain
  • Changes in appetite and a craving for food high in carbohydrates
  • Low energy and persistent tiredness
  • Oversleeping

Spring and Summer Seasonal Affective Disorder

The most common symptoms persistent with summer-onset SAD, often referred to as summer depression, include:

  • Weight loss
  • Anxiety or agitation
  • Poor appetite
  • Inability to sleep (Insomnia)

Seasonal Changes in Bipolar Disorder

Those diagnosed with bipolar disorder, during spring and summer, can experience mania or a less intense form known as hypomania, and during fall or winter can experience deep depression. 

When to See a Doctor for Seasonal Affective Disorder

Sometimes, we face unique challenges in our lives that cause us to feel depressed. If you experience depression for days at a time and can’t get motivated to do the activities that once brought you joy, it’s time to see a doctor. It’s imperative if you notice a change in sleep patterns or your appetite starts to change, if you’ve turned to alcohol for relaxation or comfort, or if you feel hopeless and have suicidal thoughts. 

How to Combat Seasonal Affective Disorder

First, you must be thoroughly evaluated by a medical professional to determine the cause of your mood changes. This might include a physical exam, lab testing, psychological evaluation, and using the DSM-5. If they determine it’s seasonal affective disorder, various treatments are available to help you overcome your depression.

The most effective ways to combat seasonal affective disorder include:

  • Light therapy
  • Medications
  • Psychotherapy
  • Mind-body connection
  • Going outside
  • Making your environment brighter and sunnier
  • Regular exercise schedule
  • Alternative medicine

The only way you can combat this condition is by sticking to the treatment plan. Sometimes it’s challenging when you’re feeling down, but taking care of yourself with proper rest and nutrition is the key to battling the disorder. You must also practice stress management, get out and socialize, or even consider taking a trip somewhere warm and sunny during the winter. It might be a challenge to overcome, but help is always available. 

Sources

NCBI (September 2019) Bright Light Therapy: Seasonal Affective Disorder and Beyond. Retrieved from https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC6746555/

NCBI (June 2013) The DSM-5: Classification and Criteria Changes. Retrieved from https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3683251/

NIMH (December 2020) Bipolar Disorder. Retrieved from https://www.nimh.nih.gov/health/topics/bipolar-disorder/index.shtml

MedlinePlus (December 2020) Insomnia. Retrieved from https://medlineplus.gov/insomnia.html

NIMH (December 2020) Seasonal Affective Disorder. Retrieved from https://www.nimh.nih.gov/health/publications/seasonal-affective-disorder/index.shtml

Author

Sebastian Gonzalez

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