Seasonal affective disorder (SAD) is a mood disorder and form of depression that usually occurs in the late fall and winter months when the days get shorter and colder. SAD can manifest due to the reduction in sunlight and commonly happens where days are cloudier. Locations that are further from the earth’s equator experience more darkness during the day, putting people at high risk of developing SAD symptoms. However, there are ways to cope with SAD and manage symptoms of depression.
Symptoms of SAD
Symptoms of SAD can happen at any time of the year but are more common during late fall and winter. According to the Mayo Clinic, symptoms specific to winter-onset SAD include oversleeping, appetite changes, weight gain, tiredness, or low energy.
Sunlight increases the brain’s serotonin, which is a hormone linked to boosting mood and energy. It also helps to keep a person calm and focused. Many antidepressants raise serotonin levels, which is why they are commonly used to treat depression and anxiety.
With less sunlight, the brain releases a hormone known as melatonin, responsible for helping a person sleep. When days are shorter during the winter, melatonin levels rise earlier and can lead to mood changes associated with SAD. Johns Hopkins sleep expert Luis F. Buenaver, Ph.D., C.B.S.M. explains, melatonin “doesn’t make you sleep, but as melatonin levels rise in the evening, it puts you into a state of quiet wakefulness that helps promote sleep.”
The Importance of a Healthy Diet to Cope with Symptoms of SAD
Many people who struggle with SAD eat more carbohydrate-rich foods, especially ones that are sweet and starchy. This can contribute to excessive weight gain and weight-related health issues, affecting self-esteem and worsening depression symptoms. However, the body does need certain carbohydrates in moderation. According to the U.S. National Library of Medicine, “Your body breaks down carbohydrates into glucose. Glucose, or blood sugar, is the main energy source for your body’s cells, tissues, and organs. Glucose can be used immediately or stored in the liver and muscles for later use.” Instead of excessively consuming carbohydrate-rich foods, you can implement more high fiber foods into your diet. These can help you feel fuller, prevent intestinal problems, help lower cholesterol, and overall improve how you feel about yourself.
As days become darker, there is less sunlight, and the sunlight is a natural source of vitamin D. This means our bodies might not get a sufficient amount of vitamin D when the days are shorter. Eating fruits and vegetables are a great source of vitamin D and can help boost mood, promote good physical health, and regulate sleep patterns.
Stay Physically Active and Exercise
Staying physically active through exercise can help you stay healthy, improve mental health, and elevate mood. Exercise is a physically powerful way to lessen symptoms of seasonal depression. It stimulates the release of brain chemicals such as serotonin, endorphins, and dopamine. These neurotransmitters are responsible for mood regulation and promote a sense of wellbeing. Exercise can also reduce levels of stress that may contribute to depressive symptoms. When you focus your mind on physical activity, you can get away from the cycle of negative thoughts that feed depression.
It is not necessary to participate in a rigorous exercise routine to reap the benefits of physical activity. Any type of physical activity that gets you off the couch and moving can help improve your mood. Exercising 30 minutes per day for three to five days a week may significantly improve depression symptoms. However, exercising for as little as 10 to 15 minutes can make a difference too. Exercise can be as simple as taking a walk around the neighborhood, gardening, or even washing your car. Broaden how you think of exercise and find ways to add small activities throughout your day.
Engage in Social Activities
Isolation and staying indoors can worsen symptoms of SAD and depression. Although COVID-19 can make in-person connections difficult, reach out to friends and family or check on a neighbor to stay engaged socially. You can even plan gatherings over Zoom, Skype, or FaceTime. Sometimes talking to others experiencing the same symptoms of SAD or depression can make you feel better.
Join a support group, online forum, class, or other activity of interest or hobby. Staying socially active can improve your mood, reduce symptoms of depression, and give you a sense of belonging.
Treatment for SAD and Depression
Treatment is available for people who struggle with seasonal depression. At Achieve Concierge, we offer psychotherapy and medication to treat mood disorders, such as seasonal depression. We develop a treatment plan tailored to your specific needs and work to deliver total wellness for the mind, body, and spirit. We can teach you how to cope with the symptoms of a mood disorder.
Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD) can affect every aspect of a person’s life. Symptoms can make it challenging to complete daily tasks, go to work or school, and stay active. However, maintaining a healthy diet, staying physically active, and socializing with loved ones can help lessen the symptoms of SAD. Often, those who suffer from SAD can also struggle with major depressive disorder and anxiety. If left untreated, a person with SAD or other mental health disorders is at higher risk of using drugs or alcohol to cope with their symptoms. We provide adult and adolescent psychiatric services and care, neuropsychology, naturopathic care, nutrition consultations, and many other functional and clinical services. We offer same-day appointments as well as telemedicine appointments. If you have a hard time coping with SAD, it may be time to seek professional help. To find out more about Achieve Concierge’s services, call (619) 393-5871.