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While some people might welcome the arrival of winter and monsoon seasons, others may fret over the arrival of constant clouds, frequent rain and shorter periods of sunlight. Seasonal affective disorder, also called SAD, is a form of depression that recurs during particular times of the year. While it can occur at any time, it's most common during darker seasons, when shorter daylight hours shift the circadian rhythm and affect mood, appetite, sleep and energy levels.
Managing seasonal affective disorder is possible. There are several ways you can combat these feelings so you can feel better all year long.
What is Seasonal Affective Disorder?
Most people are probably familiar with clinical depression, or major depressive disorder, which the American Psychiatric Association describes as a common and serious medical condition that affects thoughts, feelings and actions. While they share symptoms, clinical depression is a state where the dark mood is persistent; SAD follows a pattern, and it tends to emerge during fall and winter.
The National Institutes of Health notes that sleep is influenced by the hormone melatonin. Melatonin is produced in the body during the night; shorter days and less sunlight can trigger melatonin production, leading to the feelings of fatigue associated with SAD. Mood, appetite and sleep are also affected by the hormone serotonin, and depression is often associated with lower levels of serotonin.
Symptoms of Seasonal Affective Disorder
The first time it occurs, it can be difficult for doctors to distinguish SAD from clinical depression because the symptoms are similar.
The symptoms of depression and seasonal affective disorder often manifest as sadness, feelings of hopelessness, difficulty focusing, irritability, low energy levels, difficulty sleeping, overeating, cravings for carbohydrates, weight gain, loss of interest in hobbies and activities, and thoughts of self-harm. With SAD, these symptoms appear every year at the same time and improve when the season changes. If these feelings fade when the weather changes, your doctor might recommend preventative or treatment measures for the next problematic season.
The National Institutes of Health notes that doctors usually treat SAD with light therapy, psychotherapy, cognitive behavioural therapy, counselling or medication. Lifestyle changes, too, can help you cope with seasonal affective disorder and maintain good mental health.
Managing Seasonal Affective Disorder
Talk to your doctor if you are experiencing symptoms of SAD. In the meantime, here are some easy ways to cope with SAD from the Mayo Clinic.
Get regular exercise. Regular exercise releases endorphins, which make you feel more positive and energetic. It also relieves stress and anxiety, which exacerbate SAD symptoms.
Try light therapy. When natural light is low, it might help to sit in front of a light box for a short while, preferably one that filters out ultraviolet light. This slows the melatonin production and raises serotonin levels and can improve your mood, the Mayo Clinic says. Your doctor can give you more information.
Socialise. Spend time with friends, exercise with a partner or sign up for a class. Community increases a feeling of belonging, assuring you that you are not alone.
Travel. Plan a vacation to a sunny place. Getting away, even for a weekend, can improve your mood significantly. Even the act of planning can serve as a welcome distraction.
Eat a balanced diet. A nutritious diet rich in fibre, healthy fats and complex carbohydrates is important to stay healthy and provides the fuel you need to stay active. Avoid drugs and alcohol.
Get plenty of sleep. Go to bed at the same time every day to ensure restful sleep. Sleep helps the body rejuvenate so that you wake up fresh in the morning.
Manage stress levels. The Mayo Clinic recommends practising relaxation techniques such as yoga, or spending time with a relaxing hobby, such as music. Try aromatherapy, massage or deep-breathing meditation to calm yourself and reduce stress symptoms.
Communicate. Talk to your family and friends about how you feel so that you have the support you need.
SAD can seem difficult to manage, but it's very treatable. By understanding the causes and symptoms and taking steps to address them, you can live the life you deserve — no matter the season.
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