Seasonal Affective Disorder

Do you ever wonder why more people tend to get depressed during winter? Do you feel overly tired once it starts getting cold? Why was there a rise in mental illnesses during lock down? Seasonal affective disorder (SAD) is a type of depression that's related to changes in seasons; SAD begins and ends at about the same times every year. If you're like most people with SAD, your symptoms start in the fall and continue into the winter months, draining your energy and making you feel moody.

While we don't know the exact causes of SAD, some scientists think that certain hormones made deep in the brain trigger attitude-related changes at certain times of year. Experts believe that SAD may be related to these hormonal changes. One theory is that less sunlight during fall and winter leads to the brain making less serotonin, a chemical linked to brain pathways that regulate mood. When nerve cell pathways in the brain that regulate mood don't function normally, the result can be feelings of depression, along with symptoms of fatigue and weight gain. Though winter weather might not always allow it, exercising outdoors is also great at reducing mental fatigue and stress, improving well-being, life satisfaction and happiness. Adolescents in particular benefit mentally from being in natural spaces. Even spending a minimum of 10 minutes engaging in exercise can help boost your mood and reduce the chances of developing SAD.

SAD can be effectively treated in several ways, including light therapy, antidepressant medications, talk therapy or some combination of these. While symptoms will generally improve on their own with the change of season, symptoms can improve more quickly with treatment.Many doctors recommend that people with SAD get outside early in the morning to get more natural light. If this is impossible because of the dark winter months, antidepressant medications or light therapy (photo-therapy) may help.

Light therapy involves sitting in front of a light therapy box that emits a very bright light (and filters out harmful ultraviolet (UV) rays). It usually requires 20 minutes or more per day, typically first thing in the morning, during the winter months. Most people see some improvements from light therapy within one or two weeks of beginning treatment. To maintain the benefits and prevent relapse, treatment is usually continued through the winter.

Many people live with this disorder without realizing it and suffer in silence; unable to understand as to why they feel this way and what to do about it. Don't brush off that yearly feeling as simply a case of the "winter blues" that you have to tough out on your own. Take steps to keep your mood and motivation steady throughout the year.

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