What about it? It sucks. A lot. But anyways. I decided to collect some data from a few links on SAD into one place. Some of this is straight copy and paste but all the sources are listed at the bottom.
There seems to be some disagreement on what actually causes SAD or Seasonal Affective Disorder. Sources do agree that it’s something wrong with melatonin production. Personally I think too much melatonin makes the most sense.
You’re more at risk for SAD if you’re a woman, younger, live further from the equator, or have family members who have depression or a mood disorder. People with seasonal depression have been found to have 5% higher levels of a transporter protein that whisks serotonin away from the space between neurons and moves serotonin back into the presynaptic neuron, which can lead to depression.
Sunlight in the summer stops this process from happening, but when winter approaches, less sunlight can mean more serotonin ends up hibernating in your neurons, causing seasonal depression. People with SAD may also have issues in the winter with overproducing melatonin, a hormone released in response to darkness and causes sleepiness.
And a few more sources
Most researchers believe decreased access to sunlight plays a role in seasonal affective disorder. Light affects our circadian rhythms, and UV rays can also change how the body processes vital minerals and other nutrients. For example, inadequate sunlight exposure is linked to low Vitamin D, which, in turn, has been linked to depression and other physical and mental health woes. So the effects of darkness on the body—not just darkness itself—might be partially to blame.
A recent study, published in the Journal of Affective Disorders, bolstered the connection between SAD and inadequate sunlight. It found that weather and climate—including rain and pollution levels—don’t appear to alter mood. But access to sunlight is a major predictor of mental health. In the study, people who lived in regions with shorter, darker days were more likely to experience poor mental health.
Your brain makes melatonin which it needs for adjusting your physical responses to light and dark. Even in this highly techno world, your brain still is reacting to natural light. Your eyes are the window into response to the rhythm of light and dark. When the world starts to darken into shorter days, if your brain is not manufacturing sufficient melatonin, getting drowsy and waking up becomes a challenge. Too drowsy and not energetic are the hallmarks of SAD. If you have a brain that does not make enough melatonin or that does not respond easily to the circadian rhythm you may have the biology that creates SAD.
There’s also reduced vitamin D production.
Levels of stress – like a history of stressful holiday events with family, trauma, age – younger people are more at risk, sex – women are more at risk, having a close family member with SAD or a personal history of depression, and living farther away from the equator all increase your chances of developing SAD.
Most people’s symptoms occur and resolve at the same time every year. Also, it can happen in the summer.
Personally I find that SAD has all my own depression symptoms with a few additions, like excessive sleep.
People with SAD often experience depressive symptoms which are less severe than those associated with major depressive disorders. Though suicidal thoughts can and do occur—particularly if SAD is left untreated—these thoughts are less common. Some common symptoms include:
- Low energy, feelings of grogginess, or excessive sleep. People with summer SAD may experience insomnia.
- Changes in appetite. People with SAD are vulnerable to weight gain. SAD sometimes causes carbohydrate cravings, because carbs offer a temporary energy boost.
- Irritability and anger.
- Changes in your relationships with others: People with SAD often feel lonely and rejected.
- Loss of interest in previously enjoyed activities.
- Feelings of guilt.
- Dread or uncertainty about the future.
- Loss of motivation.
- Feelings of sadness.
And a few more:
- restless activity, such as pacing
- crying, often with no apparent trigger
- feelings of fatigue, even after a full night’s sleep
- sleeping for too long
- increased appetite
- social withdrawal and a reduced interest in activities that once provided pleasure
- difficulty concentrating
- overeating and possible weight gain
- suicidal ideation
Personally I think treatment is going to vary by person. There’s less disagreement on treatment than there is on causes.
Treatment for major depression can also prove effective at treating SAD. Those treatment options include:
- Psychotherapy to help you talk through your feelings, identify problematic thought patterns, and more effectively cope with your depression. If depression causes relationship problems, therapy may also help improve your relationships. Your therapist can also talk with you about lifestyle changes—diet, exercise, activities—that may complement your treatment and help to alleviate your depression.
- Antidepressants: Depression alters chemicals in your brain. Sometimes lifestyle remedies are inadequate to get things back on track. Antidepressants can be effective and often need only to be taken for a short period.
If you don’t want to get the medicine route, there’s a few more options.
- Get natural light
- watch what you eat and take vitamins to help your mood
- Exercise and be social
And a little more on light therapy. This article is great because it gives you advice on how to use light therapy. It’s not as easy as just plugging in a light and turning it on. Light therapy lamps come in a variety of shapes and sizes.
Personally, I find “forcing” myself to do things helps some. Fatigue from SAD or depression is different than fatigue from being tired from not enough sleep or a long day of activity. Natural light definitely helps me, even filtered sun on a day where it’s partly cloudy is better than nothing. Today isn’t so nice because it’s windy and cloudy with a glare. Not enough sun!