Seasonal Affective Disorder – SAD

January 30, 2015

Seasonal Affective Disorder SADBy Anda Jines

Print – Seasonal Affective Disorder

Seasonal Affective Disorder (or SAD) is a type of cyclical depression that, for most people, tends to return around fall or winter, and tends to get better in the spring. The prevalence of SAD ranges from 1% in the southernmost states, to 10% in the northernmost states.

What causes SAD?

Seasonal Affective Disorder is an interaction between seasonal changes, biological factors and psychological vulnerabilities. Other factors may also have an impact.

Seasonal Changes: The length of the day and the amount of sunlight are key triggers of SAD. SAD is more common the further north you go, and in cloudier climates. People who work in windowless buildings, or get very little sun exposure for other reasons, may experience SAD symptoms as well. In some warm climates, SAD appears to be triggered by rainy seasons.

Biological Factors: Changes in exposure to daylight can throw off your circadian rhythm, or internal body clock, which affects your metabolism and sleep cycle. The lack of sun exposure contributes to vitamin D deficiency, which affects mood. Neurotransmitters such as serotonin are affected by light as well. Additionally, genetics and gender put some individuals at greater risk. Women are more likely than men to experience SAD, just as they are more likely to experience depression in general.

Psychological Vulnerabilities: People who are vulnerable to automatic negative thoughts and attitudes are also more vulnerable to depression, including seasonal depression. Depression can worsen or improve depending on how you think about life’s challenges, how you respond to them, and what coping methods you tend to use.

Other Factors: Other factors may also have an effect on depressive symptoms. For example, people with a good social support network tend to be more resilient. Also, big life stressors can add to the burden of SAD; stressors such as seasonal unemployment, driving in snow, or dealing with difficult family dynamics during holidays. However, these stressors are not enough in and of themselves to warrant a diagnosis of SAD.

Symptoms of Seasonal Affective Disorder

SAD is similar to other types of depression, and can vary somewhat from person to person. Symptoms may include:

Ideas for coping with SAD

The following list is not exhaustive, but can give you a few pointers. Can you think of more ideas?

1. Brighten your indoor environment.

2. Spend more time outdoors.

3. Try light therapy.

4. Increase exercise.

5. Get balanced sleep.

6. Get proper nutrition.

7. Engage in life.

8. Practice other stress management strategies.

9. Sustain a positive attitude.

10. Try psychotherapy.

Talk therapy can offer valuable support to help you overcome depression, seasonal or otherwise. A counselor can help you on your journey of recovery in a variety of ways, depending on their training and theoretical orientation. Having a chance to talk openly about your symptoms and difficulties can be validating and relieving in itself. Being heard and understood can be a healing experience.

11. Try antidepressant medications.

Seasonal Affective Disorder can also be treated with medications, like any depression. Most people get antidepressant medications from their primary doctor, but if you prefer to see a specialist, you could see a psychiatrist.

Read other blog posts by Anda Jines.

Hoover & Associates’ team of licensed psychologists, counselors, and social workers is here to offer you help and guidance. We’ve been providing mental health services in the southwest suburbs of Chicago since 1985. We’re conveniently located at 16325 S. Harlem Ave., Suite 200 (2nd floor), Tinley Park, IL, 60477. Our offices are conveniently located near Orland Park, Orland Hills, Homer Glen, Mokena, Frankfort, Matteson, Country Club Hills, Flossmoor, Homewood, Hazel Crest, Markham, Oak Forest, Midlothian, Crestwood, Palos Heights, Palos Park, and Palos Hills. Call to make an appointment: 708-429-6999.
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