Many people love Fall and Winter because of the change in weather, and the arrival of the holidays. However, the darkness we experience as the days grow shorter can affect our mood. Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD) occurs because the brain’s neural power is too low. The result of decreased neural capacity leads to a decrease in dopamine release and serotonin, the chemical that makes us feel good.
Seasonal Affective Disorder
Seasonal Affective Disorder affects people primarily in late Fall and early Winter. SAD generally goes away during the spring and summer because of the increasing hours of sunlight. The amount of sun exposure an individual gets during the day plays an essential role in Seasonal Affective Disorder. People who live in areas further away from the equator are at a higher risk for SAD, since late Fall and early Winter have fewer hours of daylight in those areas. Your skin needs approximately 10-30 minutes of sunlight each day to produce vitamin D, which helps prevent Seasonal Affective Disorder. Vitamin D also plays a role in serotonin production, a chemical the brain secretes, generating positive thoughts and feelings. Without the right amount of vitamin D, the brain’s ability to release serotonin decreases along with consistently good moods. Harmful habits, such as increased alcohol or substance use, occur when a person seeks ways to numb uncomfortable feelings. Knowing the factors that affect the body’s ability to yield enough vitamin D is crucial in decreasing the risk of major depression and SAD.
Factors that affect your skin’s ability to produce vitamin D include:
- The season
- Time of day
- Geographic location
- The amount of melanin in your skin
What Makes Depression Major?
Depression affects or disrupts our daily habits, friendships, jobs, education, and relationships with family members. Even someone who is considered extremely high-functioning or has recieved treatment for Major Depressive Disorder previously can be at risk. Symptoms persistent beyond two weeks is considered major, and a possible indicator of Seasonal Affective Disorder may be major depression symptoms occurring during specific seasons, late Fall and early Winter.
The signs of major depression and SAD, according to The National Institute of Mental Health are:
- Feeling depressed most of the day
- Feeling hopeless
- Having low energy
- Losing interest in activities
- The inability to go to sleep or stay asleep
- Changes in your appetite or weight
- Agitation or tired
- Lack of concentration
- Suicidal ideations
Symptoms of the Winter Pattern of SAD include:
- Low energy
- Uncontrolled exhaustion during the day or excessive nighttime sleep
- Weight gain
- Craving for carbohydrates
- Social withdrawal
The National Institute of Mental Health writes the risk factors for SAD are:
- Women are diagnosed at a higher rate with SAD than men.
- Those with a family history of depression are at a higher risk of having SAD.
- Younger adults have a higher risk of SAD than older adults.
- The symptoms of depression may worsen with the seasons if you have one of the risk factors mentioned.
How Does Seasonal Affective Disorder Develop?
Researchers aren’t sure why SAD develops in some people. Scientists hypothesize the decrease in serotonin production and a possible increase in melatonin production is a factor in SAD. Serotonin produces a feel-good mood while melatonin regulates circadian rhythms and sleep. The decrease in serotonin and an increase in melatonin production can signal a Vitamin D deficiency.
Ways to Combat Seasonal Affective Disorder
Increased eating, poor nutrition, and a lack of exercise can affect your mood. Review your eating and exercise habits to see where you can improve.
The urge to stay home and curl up under a blanket is strong while suffering from SAD. Spending time with friends or family can create a chance to talk with others about your feelings. Seeing a therapist discuss what you are feeling can help you recognize SAD and find positive coping skills. Your therapist can suggest other forms of treatment, like neurofeedback therapy, to aid you in reducing your SAD.
How Can Neurofeedback Therapy Help?
Neurofeedback uses your brain’s neuroplasticity—brain changes due to injury, disease, or mental health disorder—to work.
The journal article Neurofeedback: A Comprehensive Review on System Design, Methodology and Clinical Applications explains Neurofeedback:
“Neurofeedback is a safe and non-invasive procedure that showed improvement in the treatment of many problems and disorders such as ADHD, anxiety, depression, epilepsy, ASD, insomnia, drug addiction, schizophrenia, learning disabilities, dyslexia and dyscalculia.”
Talk with your therapist about neurofeedback. Combining neurofeedback with therapy can decrease or eliminate the symptoms associated with major depression or SAD. Achieve provides several different modalities for those requiring more than a group or individual therapy to cope with the overwhelming feelings associated with mental health challenges such as major depression or SAD.
As fall and winter approach, the symptoms of SAD are felt by those with and without chronic depression. Well-known therapy forms include talk therapy, antidepressants, neurofeedback, or a combination of treatments. Your clinician can talk with you about the benefits of trying neurofeedback to address your SAD. Achieve Concierge individualizes continuums of care to include genetic testing, naturopathic medicine, and evidence-based therapy modalities. Call (619) 393-5871 to schedule an appointment today.