Like most living things on planet Earth, people are drawn to sunlight. It warms our skin and it nourishes our plants to grow. We live by a clock that defines the length of our days in light and in darkness. When, however, the balance of our daylight and darkness is affected by the colder seasons of the year, we too can feel changes underway inside our bodies. Many of us react internally to seasonal changes and the lengthening of the sun’s shadows with each day.
For many people, as the Christmas holiday approaches, the drop in daily sunlight and the colder temperatures can bring forth generally negative reactions amounting to what is called Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD). SAD is a kind of depression that most commonly develops in the fall and that may continue throughout the winter months if it goes untreated.
What is SAD
When we have SAD, we may feel lethargic and moody. We don’t possess the same degree of energy as we have in the warmer, summer months. With SAD, we regard the fall and winter months as a long annual burden that must be endured. The shorter days and colder temperatures bring a daily feeling general hopelessness and indifference to the things we usually enjoy.
SAD is a specific kind of major depressive disorder that has an impact on daily life. As the days of fall begin, someone with SAD might feel, after a night of restless sleep, a sense of hopelessness, low energy and sluggishness. SAD could manifest itself in having a low level of interest in activities that normally are very motivating as well as an increase in appetite for carbohydrates that ultimately results in weight gain. Experts believe that the onset of SAD occurs with exposure to less light in those months, when the time between sunset to sunrise grows increasingly long. The extent of SAD can become so severe that those afflicted may have frequent thoughts of suicide.
Seasonal changes also affect those who already suffer from bipolar disorder. During summer months, for example, those who are bipolar might also experience a mild form of mania or hypomania while during the fall and winter, the same person could fall deeper into depression.
Experts believe the onset of SAD is related to the reduced amount of daylight in the fall and winter months. This phenomenon disrupts our internal clocks, which can lead to depression. In addition, these changes in daylight exposure may reduce the amount of serotonin that is available to the brain, which, in turn, results in moodiness. Lastly, it is very possible for the changes in seasons to impact the internal levels of a substance called melatonin, which also affects mood.
Who Gets SAD
SAD most commonly affects women, younger people, those with a family history of depression or bipolar disorder and those people who live farthest from the equator.
At present, there are three ways to approach treatment for SAD. First, it is recommended that those who are susceptible to SAD should maximize their exposure to light by using light therapy, which simulates outdoor light. Second, medications are available to reduce the severity of SAD symptoms. Third, talk therapy or what is known as psychotherapy, can help to work through the negative feelings associated with SAD. Aside from these treatments, home remedies might include brightening up the home environment, getting outside each day and exercising regularly.