When the clocks fall back late in the year, and the daylight ends around the same time work is over, many people express frustration at the changing times and the lack of light. But for others, it’s more than just a negative emotion. Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD) is a real health concern for many people who struggle with the condition.
According to American Psychiatric Association, about 5% of all adults – more than 12 million – in the United States experience symptoms of SAD, and the disorder can last almost 40% of the year. Understanding the condition and learning coping strategies can help you manage its symptoms.
What is Seasonal Affective Disorder?
Seasonal affective disorder (SAD) usually appears as depression that happens during the change in seasons, mostly during winter, though it can also happen in the spring. It is believed to be caused by changes in your brain’s internal clock and melatonin levels. Signs of SAD include feeling down, hopeless, and easily annoyed; losing interest in things you usually enjoy; having low energy; and experiencing changes in your sleep and appetite. SAD is often misdiagnosed because there are no tests, including blood tests, that doctors can use to make a diagnosis. That’s why it’s important to understand the symptoms of the disorder in order to better communicate with your doctor.
Recognizing the symptoms of SAD
The symptoms of SAD can vary from mild to severe, but what’s most important is that someone suffering from the disorder is able to recognize the symptoms in order to seek treatment and get well. Here are some of the most common symptoms of SAD:
- Changes in mood: Feeling sad, hopeless, or irritable most of the day, nearly every day, for at least two weeks.
- Loss of interest in activities: Losing interest in activities that you once enjoyed, such as hobbies, social activities, or work.
- Changes in energy: Having low energy or feeling sluggish.
- Changes in sleep: Sleeping too much or having trouble sleeping (insomnia).
- Changes in appetite: Experiencing changes in appetite, such as overeating or having cravings for carbohydrates.
- Other symptoms: Other symptoms of SAD may include difficulty concentrating, changes in weight, physical aches and pains, and social withdrawal.
Coping Strategies for Seasonal Affective Disorder
While there are medications available for people with SAD, many of the treatments have to do with lifestyle, including being active and finding time to relax. Some of the most common treatments include:
Light therapy, also known as phototherapy, involves sitting in front of a light therapy box that emits a bright light to simulate natural sunlight. This can help improve mood and alleviate SAD symptoms. Ensuring regular exposure to natural light during the day can also be beneficial.
Engaging in regular physical activity, such as walking, yoga, or swimming, can help combat the symptoms of SAD. Exercise stimulates the production of endorphins, which are natural mood lifters.
Connecting with others who understand what you’re going through can provide valuable support. Consider joining a support group or confiding in friends and family about your experience with SAD. Additionally, seeking professional help from a therapist or counselor can equip you with coping mechanisms to manage the condition.
Maintain a Healthy Lifestyle
Eating a well-balanced diet and getting an adequate amount of sleep are crucial for managing SAD. Foods rich in vitamins and nutrients, along with a consistent sleep schedule, can positively impact your overall mood and energy levels.
Engage in activities that bring you joy and relaxation. Whether it’s reading a book, practicing meditation, or pursuing a hobby, setting aside time for self-care can help alleviate SAD symptoms.
Seasonal Affective Disorder can significantly impact your daily life, but with the right strategies, it is possible to manage its effects. By understanding the symptoms and implementing coping mechanisms such as light therapy, staying active, seeking support, maintaining a healthy lifestyle, and practicing self-care, you can effectively navigate through the challenging periods associated with SAD.