Seasonal affective disorder symptoms are estimated to affect around 20% of people in the US. Could you be among them?
Life naturally seems to slow down in winter, with certain animals bedding in for the harsh months, only stirring when spring has arrived. But we are human beings and cannot simply sleep our way through winter, so how do we cope?
Talking about humans, I’ve always thought there were two types in this world, the ones that love winter and the others, like myself, who hate it. Ever since I can remember, I have hated the dark days, long nights, cold weather and chilly mornings. But it is only in the last few decades that this bunch of feelings has been given a name – seasonal affective disorder (SAD).
SAD is a particular type of depression that revolves around the winter months and typically starts in autumn and lasts through the winter months, ending in spring.
It is estimated that around 20% of people in the US suffer from mild forms of SAD and experience signs of depression, low mood and sapped energy, amongst other symptoms.
Here are the most common symptoms of seasonal affective disorder:
- Losing interest in activities you once enjoyed doing
- You know exactly what days the clocks go back or forward
- You know exactly what time it gets dark in the evening
- Difficulty concentrating
- Trouble getting up in the mornings
- You eat more carb-heavy and sweet foods
- Your diet has changed significantly
- Your sex life is reduced
- You have gained or lost weight
- You are less sociable
- Arms and legs feel heavy
- Sleeping for longer and feeling sluggish in the day
- You feel sad for no reason or in a low mood for days on end
- You feel as if you are not getting enough light
- Feeling hopeless or worthless
- Problems in relationships
- Your self-esteem takes a nosedive
- You are tearful for no reason
- You have thoughts of suicide or death
For some people, fortunately, these symptoms will be mild, but for others, they can be severe and have a serious impact on their life.
As yet, we do not know the specific cause of SAD, but we do know it revolves around the lack of sunlight that occurs in winter.
Researchers believe that the reduced sunlight has an effect on our brains and reduces the levels of serotonin (the feel-good hormone that helps our mood and regulates sleep).
Those at particular risk from experiencing the symptoms of seasonal affective disorder are young females and those who have a family history of depression.
What can help if you are experiencing seasonal affective disorder?
There are several options available for those suffering from SAD.
Once diagnosed, there are many changes in a person’s lifestyle that can easily be made that can help combat the low mood associated with SAD symptoms.
This could be spending more time outdoors in the fresh air, getting up earlier and exercising, reducing sweet and carbohydrate-rich foods and replacing for leaner cuts of meat and lots of fruit and vegetables.
Your doctor might decide that medication in the form of anti-depressants are most suitable.
In particular, medication from the selective serotonin reuptake inhibitor (SSRI) group of medications, have been found to work really well in both SAD that occurs in summer and winter months.
This is considered to be the best treatment for SAD sufferers and involves the person experiencing SAD symptoms to expose themselves to a bright light source that mimics natural light. This kick-starts the hormones in your brain that help to regulate your mood.
Light therapy is best used in the morning and evening and should be at least 25 times brighter than a normal living room light.
If you recognise any of the above symptoms and think you might be suffering from SAD, you should visit your doctor to be a proper diagnosis.
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