seasonal affective disorderIt’s quite normal to feel a little lethargic, depressed and sleepy when the weather is cold and the days are shorter. However, if you are someone who suffers from seasonal affective disorder (SAD), the changes in weather will have a much more profound effect on your mood and energy levels. So, what is seasonal affective disorder and can it be treated effectively.

What is Season Effective Disorder?

Seasonal affective disorder (SAD) aka ‘winter depression’ or ‘seasonal depression’ is actually a recurrent depressive disorder characterised by feelings of chronic depression, fatigue, and lethargy that occur at a particular time of year – usually in the autumn and winter months. 

It is estimated that SAD affects 1 in 300 Australians, with the majority experiencing the most serious symptoms in winter and more mild symptoms in autumn and spring.  Women are 4 times more likely to suffer from SAD than men, while people living in urban areas are also at a greater risk of experiencing SAD symptoms. 

What Causes Seasonal Affective Disorder

Scientists and researchers still don’t fully understand the cause of seasonal affective disorder, however they consider the following factors to be responsible for the symptoms associated with this recurrent depressive disorder:

  • decreased light exposure in winter
  • disruption of the body’s circadian rhythms (internal body clock)
  • low serotonin levels
  • high melatonin levels
  • heredity
  • psychological factors

Symptoms of Seasonal Affective Disorder

Since SAD is a recurrent seasonal disorder, the signs and symptoms associated with SAD usually appear only at a certain time of the year – usually in autumn/winter. Symptoms of SAD are often the same as experienced with any other form of depression, these include:

  • feelings of hopelessness and sadness
  • acute fatigue and lethargy
  • mood swings
  • loss of interest in work and sex
  • social withdrawal and introversion
  • overeating and oversleeping
  • difficulty focusing and concentrating
  • irritability

SAD symptoms usually build up slowly in the late autumn and reach their peak during the winter months. 

How Do We Treat SAD?

If you experience feelings of sadness, depression, and anxiety that seem more intense than normal during winter, you should contact your GP or a mental health professional as a first step. Your GP will make a diagnosis by taking your medical history and asking some simple questions. Your GP may also perform a physical exam and recommend some blood test to rule out other disorders that have similar symptoms to SAD. If it is confirmed that you have SAD; your GP may recommend any of the following treatment options:

  • Light Therapy – using bright artificial light that is 10 to 20 times stronger than the normal light bulbs for about 30 minutes each morning can help alleviate the symptoms of SAD considerably in some persons. 
  • Cognitive Behavioural Therapy – treatments such as psychotherapy, counselling, and cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT) can prove to be extremely useful in helping people cope with SAD symptoms. CBT helps identify and transform negative thinking and behavioural patterns associated with SAD and instead of suppressing the symptoms; it develops effective coping skills in patients to effectively overcome the SAD once and for all. 
  • Medications – medications such as antidepressant drugs and anti-anxiety drugs help SAD patients cope with the symptoms, but they are not the cure. They only help activate certain brain chemicals that are thought to be involved in managing the mood. 
  • Remedial Massage Therapy – remedial massage is well known to improve mood and increase energy levels. Many clients dealing with the symptoms of SAD find relief by including remedial massage into their treatment routine. Research has shown that remedial massage can help with overall wellbeing leading to better sleep and more energy.

In addition to these treatment options, eating foods rich in vitamin D, adopting an exercise routine and being socially active can also help to beat the symptoms associated with SAD. If you have an interest in psychology and how the mind works, getting professional hypnosis training can deepen your understanding of the human psyche.