Now imagine it’s a sunny morning in June. The vestiges of sunrise are still in the sky as you drive to work. After work, you have plans to go out for dinner with some friends, and you know it will still be warm and light for a while.
Many people wouldn’t feel a significant change in mood between these two situations, but others will. Seasonal depression, or seasonal affective disorder, affects approximately 10% of the U.S. population, and 80% of sufferers are women. While some people might experience mild mood changes associated with the seasons, others may find their symptoms are significant and are affecting their lives, relationships, work, etc.
If you think you might have seasonal depression or seasonal affective disorder, keep reading to learn more about the symptoms and seasonal affective disorder treatment.
Symptoms of Seasonal Affective Disorder.
If you’re wondering if you have seasonal affective disorder (SAD), it’s helpful to consider and evaluate your symptoms before you talk to your doctor or mental health professional. That way, you’ll be able to articulate your experience on your way to a potential diagnosis.
If you are someone who has SAD, you may notice some of the following symptoms following a seasonal pattern (as defined by Mental Health America):
Including isolation and irritability.
That doesn’t stem from a physical cause. Feeling lethargic, sluggish, and unmotivated. Difficulty concentrating
Including hopelessness, feeling worthless, or despair.
Not everyone who experiences SAD is triggered by the winter months, although that is most common. For some people, summer triggers their seasonal depression, and they may be more prone to experiencing episodes of mania. This rare spring-onset or summer depression may be more likely to include weight loss or insomnia, while winter-onset SAD is more often linked to increased appetite and weight gain.
If you’re experiencing these symptoms and notice that they seem to follow a cyclical pattern with the seasons, it’s possible you could have SAD. It can help to keep a mood or symptom log to document your experience.
Causes of Seasonal Affective Disorder.
Although experts aren’t sure exactly what causes seasonal depression, studies have shown that people with SAD tend to have lower levels of serotonin in their brains during the fall and winter months. According to Mental Health America:
“The reduced level of sunlight in the fall and winter months may affect an individual’s serotonin, a neurotransmitter that affects mood. Lower levels of serotonin have been shown to be linked to depression.”
When serotonin levels are lower, an individual’s mood can tend to follow suit. Melatonin levels are linked to light and tend to be higher in the fall and winter months. Some experts believe that the overproduction of melatonin is part of the reason people are more likely to experience depression during seasons with less natural light.
It’s also possible for sleep/wake cycles to be disrupted, which disturbs your biological rhythm and makes it difficult for you to sync your sleep schedule with the clock. This disruption can significantly impact your mood.
Although we know SAD is likely triggered by less sunlight, we’re not sure of all the causes. However, experts do know that besides the factors listed above, it’s also possible that vitamin D deficiency and negative thinking are related to seasonal depression.
If you are young, female, live far north or south of the equator, live in an area with lots of cloud coverage, have another mood disorder, or have relatives with SAD or another mood disorder, you are at higher risk of developing SAD. (Cleveland Clinic)
If you feel like the deck is stacked against you, don’t despair; seasonal affective disorder treatment is available. Equipping yourself with knowledge about your symptoms can help you take steps to advocate for yourself and start to feel better.
Treatment options for SAD.
If you suffer from SAD, it can significantly disrupt your life. No one wants to feel miserable for up to half the year. It can make it difficult to focus on your work, studies, relationships, and self-care. Then a negative cycle can begin. Because SAD is disrupting your life, you’re not maintaining healthy habits, leading to an increase in low mood, and even more difficulty keeping yourself in a helpful rhythm.
You might be wondering, “How is seasonal affective disorder treated?” There are a variety of treatments available, depending on the individual, your specific symptoms, and whether you experience a spike in symptoms in the summer or the winter.
Can be the first line of defense for acute levels of SAD. In Christian counseling for seasonal affective disorder, you can discuss your symptoms and potential diagnosis with a mental health professional who is trained to identify and treat mental health conditions.
You’ll also be able to work with your counselor to identify techniques and treatments that may be helpful to you, practice them in between sessions, and reassess which treatments are helpful and which are not.
John Hopkins University lists the following treatment options that are commonly used for seasonal depression:
Increased light exposure.
Whether through actual sunlight, an SAD therapy lamp, or a change in routine, increasing your exposure to natural light can be a helpful tool for treatment.
Your counselor can work in conjunction with your medical provider to see whether medication use may be indicated for your symptoms. Antidepressants can help balance brain chemicals to help balance moods.
Set realistic goals.
If you’re falling behind on your responsibilities due to depression, it won’t help to go too far in the opposite direction and try to get everything done at once. Your counselor can help you break your goals down into manageable chunks and work on achieving them step by step.
Talk to others.
Depression often makes us feel isolated or as if we must isolate ourselves. Talking openly and honestly about your feelings with trusted friends or family members may not fix or change your symptoms, but it likely will be helpful in the long run.
Participate in positive activities, even if you’re not feeling better.
Helping others, doing something fun, and spending time with others may not be what you’d prefer to do when you’re feeling low, but doing these things in bite-size amounts can also help over time.
Regular exercise is as effective for treating anxiety and depression as some medications. You don’t have to do anything extreme or intense; a simple daily walk is perfect.
Eat three healthy, balanced meals per day.
Choose lean proteins, whole grains, nuts and seeds, and plenty of fruits and vegetables.
Have reasonable expectations for healing.
Don’t expect your symptoms to lift immediately with treatment. Just as healing the body takes time, so does healing the mind and emotions.
Be patient and focus on gratitude and positive thinking.
Platitudes and truisms certainly don’t cure depression, but calm acceptance, deliberate gratitude, and reasonable positivity can help.
Accept help and friendship.
Often people don’t know exactly what to say or how to help someone struggling with a mental health condition, but isolation can make you feel even worse. Cultivate relationships with safe people who care about you, and try not to isolate yourself further.
We believe in God’s power and grace working through evidence-based mental health treatment. We desire to be instruments of his love for everyone who is struggling. A single mode of treatment will rarely be an instant cure for seasonal affective disorder or any other mental health condition, but we are here to connect you with the resources to heal at your own pace and in a way that is highly individual to you.
If you are struggling with symptoms of SAD and are interested in getting treatment or learning more about depression, please call our office today and request a risk-free initial session. We are here for you.
“Standing in the Fog”, Courtesy of kilarov zaneit, Unsplash.com, CC0 License; “Cloudy Day in Greyscale”, Courtesy of Parco Chan, Unsplash.com, CC0 License; “Mountain Road”, Courtesy of Mitchell Kmetz, Unsplash.com, CC0 License; “Road at Night”, Courtesy of Eugene Triguba, Unsplash.com, CC0 License
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