How to Overcome Seasonal Affective Disorder

By Michael Galvan | 01/21/2017

Seasonal affective disorder (S.A.D.) is a mood disorder, characterized by depression, that occurs during a certain season of the year, usually winter. In the United States, between six to fourteen percent of residents suffer from some form of S.A.D.1

Causes of Seasonal Affective Disorder

While there are no clear-cut causes of S.A.D., the disorder is thought to be linked to the sharp decrease in sunlight, which upsets our circadian rhythms. The drop in sunlight also may cause a reduction in serotonin levels (a brain chemical that affects mood) and a vitamin D deficiency. Some researchers believe there is also a link to melatonin, a sleep-related hormone produced at higher levels in the dark, which can cause symptoms of depression.2

Symptoms of Seasonal Affective Disorder

Some common clinical symptoms of seasonal affective disorder are:2

  • Decreased energy
  • Food cravings
  • Irritability
  • Depression
  • Diminished concentration
  • Muddled thoughts
  • Longer sleep schedule

These symptoms are similar to those of major depression. The main difference is the timing: while depression exists outside of time limits, S.A.D. only occurs during one season every year.

Dr. Norman E. Rosenthal, a former clinical mood pattern researcher from the National Institute of Mental Health, said those who suffer from seasonal affective disorder fall into the same predictable pattern every year.

“They slow down and have a hard time waking up in the morning. Their energy level decreases, they tend to eat more, especially sweets and starches, and they gain weight. Their concentration suffers, and they withdraw from friends and family,” said Dr. Rosenthal.

Treatment for Seasonal Affective Disorder

If you think you may be suffering from S.A.D., or you begin to notice the symptoms, there are some immediate steps you can take to prevent the progression:

Use light boxes.

Traditional indoor lighting is artificial, so it doesn’t help counteract the symptoms of seasonal affective disorder. However, light therapy boxes can mimic the sun and are much brighter. These light boxes have been proven as a natural and effective treatment, with a 60-80% success rate.1

Get some exercise.

Exercise has been shown to increase levels of serotonin, a naturally occurring chemical in the body that can help reduce or relieve seasonal depression. Exercising outside is doubly beneficial because it allows to you to get vitamin D and fresh air.

De-stress.

If you‘re already feeling the strain from seasonal affective disorder, then find ways to relieve your stress and incorporate relaxation techniques into your daily routine. Daily mediation is a great way to center yourself and reconnect to your body, helping to reduce the physical effects of seasonal depression.

Eat foods full of tryptophan.

Tryptophan is an amino acid that plays a key role in creating serotonin. In one study, it was shown that the increased intake of tryptophan was associated with lower rates of suicide in industrialized nations.3 Some common foods that contain high levels of tryptophan include seeds and nuts, soy-based foods, cheese, fish, oats, and lentils.

Take vitamin D supplements.

Seasonal affective disorder has been linked to vitamin D deficiency, which you can combat by buying supplements.4 You can usually find these at your local grocery store or pharmacy. Be careful to follow the dosing instructions on the package and consult with a doctor if you are still unsure about proper use.

 

Seasonal affective disorder affects millions of people each year. When the winter blues have you down, try these steps and consult with your physician on what treatment options are best for you.

References
1: http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC2686645/
2: http://www.mentalhealthamerica.net/conditions/sad
3: http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC2077351/
4: http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/10888476