Seasonal Depression: What It Is and What Causes It

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Although winter may bring holiday joy with it, to some it can cause ill-health, energy loss and depression. Being human, it is only normal to experience episodes of winter blues every now and then. However, in case you regularly feel down for no particular reason, have a constant sense of fatigue, and you catch yourself binge-eating daily, there is a good chance you might be going through a typical seasonal affective disorder.

What is SAD ?

Seasonal affective disorder (SAD) is a type of depression triggered by the change in seasons. The symptoms of this disorder are similar to those of typical depression, with the only difference being, that they tend to occur recurrently at a particular time of year, primarily in winter. Usually, they improve in the spring.

What are its Causes?

Winter SAD is associated with decreased exposure to daylight, which at the same time means, spending more time indoors. In addition, it is believed that seasonal changes tend to disrupt our circadian rhythm, the 24-hour clock that regulates most of our functions, thus immediately affecting our mood. Finally, another disruption can be observed in the neurochemical balance of our brains, due to changing seasons. These changes affect crucial brain hormones, such as serotonin and melatonin, which are necessary for our proper functioning and well- being.

What are the main symptoms of SAD?

Symptoms of seasonal affective disorder, may include:

  • feelings of sadness, when the seasons change
  • sleeping difficulties
  • lack of energy
  • binge-eating
  • loss of interest in everyday activities
  • feelings of despair and guilt
  • low self-esteem
  • loss of sexual interest

Are there any SAD treatment tips I can consider?

  • Try light therapy boxes. These boxes produce light which mimics that of sunshine. It has been shown that this type of phototherapy might help improve mood in almost 70% of people with SAD.
  • Try an exercise program. Exercise can help alleviate seasonal affective disorder. In case you can't exercise outside due to cold weather, you can choose an indoors type of programme, such as a stationary bike or a treadmill.
  • Keep a journal. Writing down your thoughts, has been proven to have a positive effect on your mental health. It helps you express yourself, while getting some of your adverse feelings out of your system.