Gray skies, chilly air, less fun in the sun — who doesn’t start to feel down when Fall and Winter come around?
Seasonal affective disorder (SAD) is a type of depression related to seasonal changes, beginning and ending at around the same time every year. Most people experience seasonal affective disorder symptoms in the fall and winter months. It’s possible to have seasonal affective disorder in the spring and summer, but the symptom profile is slightly different.
Formerly known as major depressive disorder with seasonal patterns, SAD can be a disabling mental health condition. The good news is it’s highly treatable!
The symptoms of depression and seasonal affective disorder are very similar; distinguishing between them is all about timing.
While the specific cause of SAD remains unknown, it’s generally considered to be triggered by changes in the amount of sunlight. Reduced sunlight may affect your body’s internal clock, thus disrupting sleep-wake patterns and a drop in serotonin and dopamine levels.
Serotonin and dopamine are brain chemicals associated with feelings of happiness, calm, focus, concentration, and motivation. Also referred to as “happy chemicals,” a drop in serotonin and/or dopamine levels may trigger depression.
Common treatments for seasonal affective disorder include light therapy, psychotherapy, and lifestyle changes.
1. Light therapy
Light therapy is a unique treatment for fall and winter seasonal affective disorder. It involves using a light box with a minimum 10,000 lux brightness for at least 30 minutes daily to counteract the lack of natural daylight that can trigger SAD.
In addition to light therapy, psychotherapy is an effective treatment for SAD, particularly Cognitive Behavioural Therapy (CBT). CBT can help you challenge your negative beliefs and thought patterns, improve emotional regulation and develop healthy coping skills if you struggle with seasonal affective disorder.
3. Lifestyle changes
Making a few small changes to your lifestyle can help improve your mood and decrease some symptoms of SAD. These may include:
While seasonal affective disorder isn’t preventable, timely treatment can help with changes in mood, appetite and energy levels before completely take over. If you experience symptoms for longer than two weeks, we recommend reaching out to one of our mental health professionals to develop a treatment plan.
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