As the fall and winter seasons approach, many are ready to break out their warm and cozy apparel, get a taste of Starbucks’ signature pumpkin spice latte, and finally reconnect with the whole family for the holidays. While it is common for most to have those same fuzzy feelings about the yearly changes, the seasonal shift isn’t always as pleasant for some. A seasonal slowdown known as Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD) or Seasonal Depression can be, for some, what makes the happiest time of the year not so jolly.
Researchers have not yet discovered a specific cause for the illness, but it is known, however, that several factors play a role in contributing to it. The reduction in sunlight during the winter time can throw off your biological clock and reduce levels of serotonin and melatonin. Serotonin, sometimes known as the “happy chemical”, is a brain chemical that regulates your mood. Melatonin is a hormone produced by the brain to regulate the body’s sleep-wake patterns. Decreases in these two brain chemicals can create triggers for depression. Other risk factors that can increase one’s chances of being diagnosed can include a family history of the disorder or their living proximity of the equator.
Now because the name is indeed Seasonal Depression, it is still completely possible to show symptoms or be diagnosed in the spring or summer seasons. During the warmer seasons, SAD is less likely to be diagnosed compared to those in fall and winter. Seasonal Depression also has differing symptoms depending on the months. Symptoms shown during the summer and spring include poor appetite, trouble sleeping, anxiety, and weight loss. On the other hand, the symptoms pertaining to winter and fall SAD can range from oversleeping, tiredness, weight gain, and drastic shifts in appetite.
Seasonal Depression can later create more serious complications and issues if left untreated and unresolved. Someone suffering from the disorder can become socially withdrawn, cause eating or anxiety disorders, and even begin to show signs of suicidal behavior.
Seasonal Depression’s treatment methods are most commonly done in natural aspects with the most used one being light therapy. Light therapy, as known as phototherapy, is a treatment method where the patient sits in front of a light box that gives off 10,000 lux of fluorescent light (about 20 times brighter than indoor light). You are then exposed to this light within the first hour of waking up every day. Light therapy imitates natural outdoor light and is utilized in causing a change in brain chemicals linked to mood such as melatonin and serotonin. Other options of treatment are simply to attempt to get enough rest, practice stress management techniques, and stick to the treatment plans.
The holidays are a time for joy, family and friends. A joyful time that’s meant to be enjoyed by each and every one. Seasonal Depression is more common than one may think, but it is also completely possible to overcome. With the proper treatment and help of loved ones, everyone’s favorite jolly season can be a great experience for everyone.