How to Limit the Effects of Seasonal Affective Disorder and Stress
Days are turning colder. We’re losing daylight sooner and sooner. Everything seems darker and greyer. Suddenly, we’re not feeling quite like ourselves and we can’t pinpoint why.
With winter approaching, the signs of Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD) will be noticeable.
With our help, you'll know what to look for, see if you’re at risk, and take precautions to limit the affects of SAD.
What is Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD)?
Because the signs are similar other mental illnesses, the symptoms of (SAD) is difficult to decipher. But unlike depression, SAD is connected directly to the seasons.
SAD causes a person to feel moody, disgruntled, upset and stressed for seemingly no reason at all. It is common for the weather to affect our mood. But a person with SAD experiences mood changes severely. People assume the effects of SAD are just ‘winter blues’ without examining further. This is a mistake. SAD can lead to many internal and external complications, as well as heavy amounts of mental and physical stress to the body.
It’s recommended to not brush off these feelings or attempt to handle them alone.
What causes lead to Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD)?
Unfortunately, it’s unknown what specifically causes SAD. Yet some leading reasons for SAD development are:
Melatonin Levels: in our body, melatonin has a connection between sleep and mood patterns. Changes in season can cause a disruption with our melatonin levels. This leads us to have complications in sleep and disgruntled moods. As a result, our stress levels rise.
Reduced sunlight: lack of sunlight can cause serotonin (connected with our moods) levels to drop. Additionally, less light can disrupt our internal clock and cause us to feel depressed. In the winter, it becomes darker earlier and this can lead to feeling less energetic.
What are symptoms of Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD) and who is at risk?
Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD) can occur in any season. But the effects are prominently felt during the fall and winter months. During these months a person may feel and endure:
- Less energy
- Hopelessness and irritability
- Depression (most of the day or all day)
- Sleep complications
- Lack of interest in activities loved
- Sluggish or fatigue often
- Increased or lack of appetite
- Problems with concentration
- Potentially suicidal
Since the symptoms of SAD are linked to the symptoms of depression, the signs can be quite similar. The symptoms range from mild (less energy, sluggish and agitated) to severe (hopelessness, worthlessness, and suicidal).
The people most at risk for developing SAD tend to be:
- Women: SAD is clear in more women than men, but the men who develop SAD often feel the more severe symptoms.
- Genetics: if there’s a history of SAD in the family, it’s more likely to be passed onto you.
- People already diagnosed with depression (or similar mental illnesses): the symptoms already present with depression or similar illnesses worsen with the addition of SAD.
- Young people: fall/winter SAD frequents younger people more than it does older.
How can I limit the symptoms of Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD)?
Light therapy is the most common treatment of SAD. You sit in front of a light for roughly 30 minutes a day. Light helps adjust serotonin, melatonin and other levels disrupted by season change. If severe symptoms return, a medical professional may recommend antidepressant prescriptions.
However, you can do the following on your own to help limit the symptoms of SAD:
- Exercise: when you sweat, you release endorphins from the brain. They boost your mood. Your levels of serotonin will increase too. They give you a temporary skip in your step and limit fatigue and irritability.
- Go for walks: preferably when it’s sunny. Your body can absorb the light (like light therapy). It’s a form of exercise; it gets you moving and out of the house so your symptoms of SAD don't increase.
- Giving yourself a pep talk: this can be linked to Cognitive Behavioural Therapy (CBT). Whenever the depressive thoughts begin to creep up, nip them in the bud by acknowledging them. This prevents a domino effect from happening.
- Vitamin B supplements: Vitamin B6 and folic acid specifically can help with mild depression (but can have negative effects if taken with anti-depressions, consult your GP before adding more Vitamin B into your diet).
- Fish oil supplements: omega-3 fatty acids (in fish oil) can boost your emotional well-being.
If you’re unsure of your symptoms and what extra methods you can take to limit or prevent SAD, discuss your options with your pharmacist. They understand SAD is a disorder most effective these months and wish to help you as best they can.
Be sure to mention if you had SAD symptoms for at least two winters, if there’s a history of depression in your family, and how you’ve been feeling. The more information you can provide, the better they can offer help.
If you’ve experienced the symptoms there is a chance you have Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD). It's not just a simple cause of the woes.
If unsure, your pharmacist will be more than happy to discuss the appropriate steps to take . It’s never too late or too silly to discuss with your pharmacist.