What is Seasonal Affective Disorder?

Every year as the temperatures drop, so do spirits. Especially once the holiday season wraps up, all that’s left is to hunker down for what’s left of a dark, cold winter. Exposure to shorter days, longer nights, limited sunshine, and lower temperatures for an extended period of time can have a clinical effect on a person’s mental health. The result is what’s called Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD) or, more commonly the winter blues. 

SAD is defined by the Mayo Clinic as “a type of depression related to changes in seasons – SAD begins and ends at about the same times every year.” The limited sunshine can lead to less serotonin in the brain (which regulates mood), disruptions to the body’s internal clock (circadian rhythm), and changes to melatonin (which affects both mood and sleep). 

Symptoms of SAD in the fall and winter months include oversleeping, increased fatigue/low energy, changes in appetite, and weight gain. It’s also important to understand that winter isn’t the only time SAD can take effect. Spring/summer SAD is less common, but it has symptoms that mirror winter SAD. Symptoms of spring/summer seasonal affective disorder include insomnia, appetite and weight loss, and feelings of agitation and/or anxiety.

The symptoms of SAD should not be taken lightly, or just minimized as a touch of the winter blues. It is a type of depression, and it can intensify if left untreated. A few examples of what can happen if SAD is left untreated include withdrawal from society, such as cancelling plans with friends/family and isolating, problems at work/school, abuse of substances, the appearance and/or prominence of other mental health disorders including anxiety and eating disorders, and in severe instances, thoughts of suicide. 

There are a number of techniques that are helpful in treating seasonal affective disorder. Addressing the symptoms of SAD is important, because it can help to prevent complications or the intensification of the symptoms. If you or someone you love is suffering from the symptoms of seasonal affective disorder, there are resources that can help, such as the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA)’s National Helpline.






Posted on February 17 2020 in Blog

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