Feeling a little down now that the days are shorter and it’s dark by 4 p.m.? It’s not just you. When we changed the clocks back on November 3, our circadian rhythms were affected, which can majorly disrupt mood. While we all may feel a little bit down with cold and gloomy weather, for many people, the change in seasons can bring on significant bouts of depression. Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD) is a form of depression that is brought on with the changing of seasons, most commonly occurring during the winter months.
Symptoms of SAD range in severity and are typical of a depressive episode, including fatigue, sad mood, loss of interest in previously enjoyed activities, difficulty sleeping, changes in weight and feeling of hopelessness, to name a few. SAD is most common in countries in the northern hemisphere and among women.
While the cause of SAD has not been fully determined, research has found that our bodies produce less serotonin in the winter, a neurotransmitter that plays a main role in regulating our moods. Melatonin levels are also associated with SAD, with reduced exposure to sunlight in the winter impacting the balance of the hormone in our bodies. Vitamin D, which is produced by our bodies after exposure to sunlight, also may play a role in the onset of depressive symptoms during the winter.
Luckily, many novel treatments exist to help those experiencing SAD.
Much of the treatment of SAD involves increasing your exposure to light, both naturally and artificially. Simply spending more time outside during daylight hours can help curb symptoms of SAD. Artificial lights can also be used to treat SAD, a process known as phototherapy. Specialized light boxes can be used to mimic the sun and improve one’s daily functioning.
Other recommendations for those experiencing symptoms of SAD include eating healthier foods, spending more time with friends and family and staying active.
For those continuing to struggle with SAD, seeking professional help can be the best form of treatment. Various forms of behavioral therapy have been proven to have long term benefits.
It is natural for us to experience some difficulties adjusting to the winter months, especially in a place like State College. Simple lifestyle changes can help alleviate mild symptoms you may be encountering with the change of seasons. However, for those for those whose lives are significantly impacted by SAD, professional help could be the best form of treatment. VALLEY encourages you to prioritize your mental health and do your homework on this depressive disorder that is estimated to impact 10 million Americans each year.
Find a psychologist near you using the American Psychological Association’s psychologist tracker.