Seasonal Depression (SAD): Causes, Signs, and Treatment

Seasonal depression (SAD) is an emotional disorder that tends to occur during a particular season of the year, usually winter. SAD can affect mood, energy levels, sleep, and appetite. It is necessary to have early intervention measures to minimize the negative consequences for health and life.

seasonal depression

Seasonal depression (SAD) is a form of depression that affects about 1-2% of the population worldwide

What is Seasonal Depression (SAD)?

Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD) is also known as seasonal affective disorder. This is a type of depression that occurs at the same time every year, usually in the winter.

SAD can affect your mood, energy levels, sleep, and appetite. It affects all aspects of your life, from your relationships and social life to work, school, and how you feel about yourself.

SAD can make you feel like a completely different person during the summer. For example, depression, sadness, stress, loss of interest in friends or activities that you once enjoyed.

Statistics show that SAD affects about 1-2% of the world population. In the United States alone, about 5% of adults in this country have experienced SAD. Of these, SAD affects more women than men, with about 75% of people with this disorder being women.

Signs of seasonal depression

The symptoms of seasonal depression are similar to those of major depression. SAD is distinguished from depression by a remission of symptoms in the spring and summer months (or fall and winter in cases of summer SAD).

1. Signs of depression according to autumn – winter

The symptoms of seasonal depression can vary widely, depending on the time of onset and many other related factors. For many people, symptoms can begin mildly in the fall and worsen over winter days.

signs of seasonal depression

Having trouble waking up in the morning is a common sign of winter SAD

Fall-winter SAD often has some of the following symptoms:

  • Feeling sluggish and lack of energy so don’t want to do anything
  • Having trouble waking up in the morning
  • Increase appetite, especially sweets or foods rich in carbohydrates
  • Weight tends to increase
  • Always in a state of sleepiness and spends most of his time sleeping
  • Doesn’t want to leave the house and tends to isolate himself
  • Losing interest in things, even though you may have loved them before
  • Feeling sad for a long time, crying easily even though sometimes for no reason
  • Loss of concentration, loss of memory and reduced ability to process information
  • Feelings of anxiety, panic, and being easily startled
  • Working inefficiently, slowly, limbs always feel powerless
  • More sensitive, especially when it comes to rejection

2. Signs of depression according to spring-summer

The spring-summer form of SAD is less common. It usually begins in late spring or early summer and ends in the fall. Many summer SAD symptoms are similar to winter SAD symptoms, but there are still many differences.

Here are some symptoms of spring-summer SAD:

  • Moodiness, fatigue and always feeling uncomfortable
  • Insomnia, tossing, difficult to fall asleep and easy to wake up in the middle of the night
  • Easily angry and irritable
  • Loss of appetite, lack of appetite and often just want to drink water
  • Limit leaving the house due to fear of heat, just want to stay in a cool place
  • Increased sex drive
  • Weight tends to decrease

Causes of seasonal depression

So far, researchers don’t know the exact cause of seasonal depression. The lack of sunlight in the winter can increase the risk of this condition.

Mechanisms may include:

1. Biological clock changes

When a person is less exposed to natural sunlight, their biological clock can be altered. Meanwhile, the circadian clock is an important factor involved in the regulation of mood, sleep and hormones. When it changes, it’s understandable that mood swings will appear.

causes of seasonal depression

Less exposure to light can change the biological clock and affect mood

2. Chemical imbalance in the brain

The chemicals in the brain are also known as neurotransmitters. Their job is to send communication between nerves.

In particular, serotonin is a chemical in the brain that contributes to feelings of happiness. People at risk for SAD may already have less serotonin activity.

In fact, sunlight has the ability to regulate serotonin levels, so a lack of sunlight in the winter will likely make the situation worse. A sharp drop in serotonin levels causes mood swings.

3. Vitamin D Deficiency

Serotonin levels also get a little boost from vitamin D. Meanwhile, sunlight helps the body synthesize some vitamin D through the skin. Less sunlight in winter can lead to vitamin D deficiency.

In addition, the body’s deficiency of vitamin D is likely due to an unbalanced diet. And it is these deficiencies that can affect a person’s serotonin levels and mood.

4. Increase melatonin

Melatonin is a chemical that has a lot to do with sleep quality. A lack of sunlight can stimulate the body to produce too much melatonin in some people. This makes them feel tired, sluggish and sleepy during the winter.

Increased metalonin causes seasonal depression

Lack of sunlight increases melatonin levels, causing fatigue, lethargy and sleepiness

5. Risk factors

According to statistics, seasonal depression is diagnosed more in women than in men. At the same time, SAD also occurs more often in young people than in older people.

Factors that may increase your risk of seasonal depression include:

  • Family history: People with SAD are more likely to have a blood relative who also has the condition or another form of depression.
  • Have major depression or bipolar disorder: Symptoms of depression may get worse seasonally if you have major depression or have bipolar disorder.
  • Living far from the equator: SAD occurs more commonly in people who live further north or south of the equator. This is usually due to reduced sunlight during the winter months.
  • Furthermore, the days are longer during the summer months.

Effects of seasonal depression

The advice for you is not to be subjective when experiencing the signs and symptoms of seasonal depression. Because like other types of depression, SAD can get worse and lead to problems if not treated early.

Here are some common consequences of uncontrolled SAD:

  • Sadness can turn to despair. Along with that can be a series of negative thoughts and behaviors.
  • Patients tend to isolate themselves, gradually alienating relatives and friends.
  • Reduces academic and work performance, hinders development, and lowers quality of life.
  • Look to stimulants such as alcohol, tobacco or drugs to relieve the spirit. However, these things make things worse in the long run.
  • Increases the risk of other mental health problems such as eating disorders or anxiety disorders.
  • Constantly having thoughts of death and always trying to find suicidal behavior.

effects of seasonal depression

Untreated SAD can get worse and increase the risk of other mental disorders

Diagnosis of seasonal depression

For seasonal depression, despite a thorough evaluation, it can sometimes be difficult for a doctor to make a diagnosis. Because other types of depression or some other mental health condition can cause similar symptoms.

To diagnose seasonal depression, your doctor will need to use some of the following techniques and tests:

  • Physical exam: Your doctor may conduct a general exam and ask in-depth questions about your health. Taking a medical history is also essential. Because in some cases, seasonal depression can be related to an underlying physical health problem.
  • Tests: Your doctor may order a blood test (usually a complete blood count) or a thyroid test to make sure everything is working properly.
  • Psychological evaluation: To check for signs of SAD, your doctor may ask about your thoughts, feelings, and behavior patterns. You may be asked to fill out a table to answer these questions.
  • DSM-5: To confirm a diagnosis, a psychiatrist may use the criteria for SAD episodes listed in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-5).

Making a definitive diagnosis for SAD is particularly important. Because through this, the doctor not only recognizes the appearance of the disease but also assesses the extent and stage of the disease progression. From there, develop a treatment plan suitable for each patient.

Directions for the treatment of seasonal depression

Seasonal depression can get in the way of changing yourself. However, there are many ways you can do it to make yourself better. Treatment takes time and requires persistence.

Effective management and treatment of seasonal depression requires a combination of different approaches. This may include light therapy, psychotherapy, medication, and other supportive measures.

Here are some solutions that may benefit someone with seasonal depression:

1. Exposure to natural light

To manage seasonal depression, you should first adopt healthy habits. One of them is that whenever possible, you should go out during the day and bask in the sun.

You should not wear sunglasses when going out (but be careful not to look directly at the sun). Sunlight, even in small doses in winter, can help increase serotonin levels. That will improve your mood.

There are many ways you can benefit from natural light. For example, take a short walk outdoors, drink coffee outside. Or you can also increase the amount of natural light in your home and workplace by opening blinds or sitting near a window.

2. Physical activity

Regular exercise is believed to be an effective way to combat seasonal depression. Especially when you can exercise outdoors during the day.

Regular physical activity can increase endorphins, serotonin, and other brain chemicals. In fact, exercise can treat mild to moderate depression as effectively as antidepressants. In addition, exercise also helps improve sleep and improve physical health.

how to relieve symptoms of SAD

Outdoor physical activity can help reduce symptoms of SAD

You should look for continuous and rhythmic exercise. Typically walking, swimming, martial arts, weight training, dancing, etc. are exercises that help you move both arms and legs. Aim for 30-60 minutes of physical activity most days.

3. Rebuilding social relationships

Close relationships are important in reducing isolation. It also helps you better manage seasonal depression. Try to participate in social activities even if you don’t feel like it.

If you’ve ever withdrawn from relationships that were once important to you, try to reconnect. In addition, you can also find opportunities to start new relationships.

Some ways to help you build relationships include:

  • Call or text an old friend to make a coffee date
  • Join a Seasonal Depression Support Group
  • Join a class or a club
  • Volunteer time to help others

4. Eat a Balanced Diet

When suffering from seasonal depression, the advice for you is to pay attention to your diet. Eat small and balanced meals throughout the day. Also increase fresh fruits and vegetables. They will help you maintain energy and reduce mood swings.

In some cases, symptoms of seasonal depression can make you crave sugary foods or simple carbohydrates. However, complex carbohydrates will be a better choice for you. Foods like whole grain bread, brown rice, oatmeal, bananas, etc. can increase serotonin levels. They help you feel more comfortable without the sugar drop afterward.

Foods rich in omega-3 fats are also helpful for people struggling with SAD. Fatty fish, walnuts, flaxseeds, and soybeans should be included in the diet. In addition to improving mood, they also help increase the effectiveness of antidepressants.

5. Light therapy

Light therapy is also known as phototherapy. This is the preferred treatment for seasonal depression. The aim is to expose the patient to artificial light (which simulates natural outdoor light) to replace the lack of light during the winter months.

seasonal depression treatment

Light therapy is believed to be the mainstay of treatment for SAD.

Daily exposure can suppress the brain’s secretion of melatonin. It makes you feel more awake and alert, less sleepy and melancholy. Light therapy has been shown to be effective in 85% of SAD cases. However, the amount of exposure needed depends on your symptoms and circadian rhythm.

Your therapist will often help you choose a light therapy product that is both effective and safe. It could be a lightbox or a sunrise simulator. Light therapy needs to be done daily during the winter months to be effective.

6. Psychotherapy

Although light therapy is often a highly effective treatment for seasonal depression. However, it doesn’t work for everyone.

If you are not getting much benefit from light therapy, your therapist may be able to choose another therapy. Often, psychotherapy is also the preferred decompression for psychological disorders. For example, depression, anxiety disorders, personality disorders, etc.

For seasonal depression, cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) is the most beneficial. A psychologist will help you limit negative thoughts, attitudes, and behaviors. It also helps you learn how to manage your symptoms and deal with stress in healthy ways.

For many people, cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) can be just as effective in treating seasonal depression as light therapy or antidepressants. Moreover, this therapy has the great advantage of not causing any side effects.

7. Drug use

If light therapy doesn’t work for seasonal depression, your doctor may also recommend antidepressants. Among them, selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs) are the most commonly used.

SSRIs work by acting on serotonin levels in the brain to relieve SAD symptoms. In the United States, the FDA has specifically approved bupropion (Wellbutrin) for the treatment of seasonal depression.

However, all antidepressants can cause adverse side effects. Includes some specific safety concerns for children and adolescents. It is therefore necessary to carefully weigh the benefits and risks before starting to use the drug.

Seasonal depression is an emotional disorder that deserves proper attention. Whatever treatment plan you’re on, it’s important to incorporate self-help techniques. This will help with better symptom control and prevent the disease from coming back next year.

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