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Seasonal Affective Disorder

Sunlight plays such a vital role in the lives of humans. Not only do we get nutrients from the sun, our hormones time our biological clock according to the sun. Some people are so persuaded by the sun that they have seasonal mood swings. Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD) is a mood disorder that is also commonly referred to as ‘winter depression’. A person can also have ‘summer depression’; this disorder is called Reversed Seasonal Affective Disorder (RSAD). SAD and RSAD are forms of depression. Many people are affected by this condition, for some it can be debilitating or turn into an even more severe condition such as bipolar disorder.

In the United States, SAD affects 6.4% of the population. The more common version Subsyndromal Seasonal Affective Disorder SSAD affects 14.3% of the population. This disorder was discovered when people began to connect the seasonal changes to their mood changes. For example, a woman reported feeling depressed when she traveled North for the winter and when she traveled to sunny, warm climates her symptoms were alleviated.

Causes

Seasonal Affective Disorders may be caused by different factors, depending on personal physiology. During the winter months, the days are shorter and people spend less time outside. Our hormones affect nearly every aspect of our biochemistry. Your hormones also affect your personal natural circadian rhythm. The circadian rhythm is a biological process that oversees your internal clock. Typically you know whether you are a “morning person” or a “night person”. This generally refers to whether you are more alert in the morning or in the evening and the circadian rhythm is what determines this. It has been summarized that if the circadian rhythm is disrupted by the sunlight, SAD symptoms can manifest.

Melatonin is a hormone that is secreted by the pineal gland. This hormone responds to day light and tells your body when it is time to go to sleep. Research has proven that people that are exposed to long day light hours, ten or more, have decreased levels of melatonin and they go to bed later and get up earlier. Another hormone that may have a significant role to play is Serotonin. Serotonin is a hormone that produces happy feelings in the body and it responds to sunlight. In winter months, the body may produce less amounts of serotonin.

As reported by the Mayo Clinic symptoms of winter SAD include:

  • Depression
  • Hopelessness
  • Anxiety
  • Loss of energy
  • Social withdrawal
  • Oversleeping
  • Loss of interest in activities you once enjoyed.
  • Appetite changes, especially a craving for foods high in carbohydrates.
  • Weight gain
  • Difficulty concentrating and processing information.

As reported by the Mayo Clinic symptoms of RSAD include:

  • Anxiety
  • Insomnia
  • Irritability
  • Agitation
  • Weight Loss
  • Poor appetite
  • Increased sex drive

For the majority of SAD sufferers, symptoms are easily alleviated by treatment of light therapy and supplementation. However, if you have suicidal thoughts and severe symptoms like; appetite changes, lack of motivation or mental clarity, and substance abuse you should seek medical attention. 20% of all people with this disorder develop bipolar depression.

Often times, people that are affected by SAD have family members that also have it. Family genetics is one risk factor for SAD. Another risk factor is people who reside in Northern regions and areas that have predominantly cloudier and rainy days.

Treatment

For those that are living with a mild version of Seasonal Affective Disorder, there are relatively easy forms of treatment.

Light Therapy refers to exposing yourself to natural and/or artificial light. This can help regulate your hormone levels by producing more melatonin and serotonin. Increasing your outdoor activities during daylight hours is highly recommended. If this is not possible due to work environments or weather conditions, you can purchase products that are specific for SAD treatment. These products are light boxes, and full-spectrum light bulbs, and they can produce a similar biochemical reaction that natural sunlight can.

Exercise is a natural mood enhancer; it has natural anti-anxiety and anti-depressant qualities. If you exercise outdoors while it is sunny the benefits will be amplified.

Supplementation is a viable option for those that are hormonally unbalanced. Melatonin and Serotonin can be taken to help regulate your circadian rhythm and promote a positive mood.

Summary

Recently discovered, a mood disorder called Seasonal Affective Disorder. This disorder causes a seasonal depression, either winter or summer. Several factors may contribute to an individual’s personal risk factors. It may be genetics, hormones, living in areas with cloudier and rainy days, and living in areas that has longer winters. For many people living with SAD, it means being aware of the season that affects your moods and complimenting your lifestyle with treatment. Common natural treatment methods are light therapy, supplementation, and exercise. If severe symptoms or thoughts of suicide occurs, you should immediately seek medical attention. As Seasonal Affective Disorder is a sub category of depression and bipolar depression. 20% of SAD sufferers will develop bipolar depression disorder.

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