What is Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD)?
As the seasons change from autumn to winter, the temperature drops and the days become shorter. You may experience sadness, irritability, and a general lack of energy. These feelings can be quite normal; our moods naturally shift with changes in the weather. However, it is when your low mood becomes pervasive and disruptive to your daily functioning that may indicate you are experiencing something more.
Seasonal Affective Disorder, otherwise known as S.A.D., is a type of depression that begins in the late autumn and typically lasts until the beginning of spring. While it isn’t completely known what causes S.A.D., it is suspected that the lack of exposure to sunlight is a factor. Sunlight provides us with vitamins that we require for our emotional wellbeing. With a lack of sunlight in the late autumn and winter months comes a lack of these important vitamins, and results in reduced mental wellness. There may also be a genetic factor to the development of S.A.D.
Some of the common symptoms of S.A.D. overlap with those seen in depression. These may include:
- Sadness and/or depressed mood
- Negative and pessimistic viewpoint
- Trouble with memory or concentration
- Feelings of guilt, worthlessness or helplessness
- Loss of interest
- Fatigue and low energy
- Difficulty sleeping or oversleeping
- Fluctuations, losses, or gains in weight
- Thinking about death, dying, and/or suicide
If you experience these symptoms and suspect you may be experiencing S.A.D., you may wish to seek the support of a mental health professional who can help you build strategies to manage your challenging emotions in the late autumn and winter months, and regain quality of life.
Luckily, there are several options for treating S.A.D., which include:
- Light Therapy: Light therapy involves a system of balanced full spectrum lighting that mimics the light received while standing outside in the sunshine and provides the same benefits. It has been scientifically proven to reduce the negative effects of S.A.D.
- Self-Care: Proper and increased self care during winter months, including proper sleep, exercise and nutrition, can be very beneficial to treat symptoms of S.A.D.
- Counselling: Meeting with a mental health professional is often beneficial and can also help to teach and implement proper coping strategies and techniques to help overcome S.A.D.
- Medication: In severe cases, you should consult your family physician, since medication, when taken in conjunction with counselling, has often proven helpful.